U.S. draws Finland in quarterfinals

Americans wobble on after 5-4 loss

unbeaten Finns have outscored opposition 17-2

Men's hockey

Winter Olympics

February 22, 2006|By BILL SHAIKIN | BILL SHAIKIN,LOS ANGELES TIMES

TURIN, Italy -- In sheer numbers, America rules. For every person in Finland, there are 60 people in the United States.

Give Goliath a puck and a stick, however, and Finland hardly trembles.

After finishing pool play with another loss yesterday, the United States draws undefeated Finland in the quarterfinals of the Olympic hockey tournament today.

The Finns outscored opponents 17-2 in their five pool games. The Americans won one, tied one and lost three, and a loss today would send them home.

"They eat the same food. They drink the same beer," Finnish star Teemu Selanne said. "They're not better than us."

The Americans finally scored yesterday, but they lost again, anyway, this time, 5-4, to Russia. In a game the U.S. never led, Russia's Alexei Kovalev scored the winning goal with 8:08 to play, on a shot that passed three U.S. defenders on the way to the net.

Kovalev scored 74 seconds after Erik Cole's goal tied the score at 4, another deflating moment in a deflating tournament for the U.S.

The Americans surrendered two short-handed goals in the first period - the first when Alexander Korolyuk stole the puck from Chris Drury, skated across two lines untouched and scored - and had to play catch-up.

"It seems like, anytime there was a breakdown, they ended up scoring," U.S. coach Peter Laviolette said.

That is problem two. Problem one, and the overriding theme for the Americans here, is an inability to convert scoring chances.

In an effort to encourage his players, rather than to harp on the obvious flaw, Laviolette reminded them before yesterday's game that they had more scoring chances than their opponent in every game here.

They did again, outshooting Russia 34-21.

"I wouldn't say it's frustrating. It's more maddening than anything else," Laviolette said. "It's driving everybody a little bit crazy. We like what we're doing, but I thought we could have scored 10 goals tonight."

Robert Esche, the No. 3 U.S. goalkeeper, gave up five goals on 21 shots in his first and almost certainly last Olympic appearance. Rick DiPietro, who gave up five goals on 59 shots in his three games, is expected to start today.

The U.S. scored three times - on goals by Brian Rolston, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez - on seven power plays. That, plus not having suffered a blowout loss in the tournament, provided encouragement for the Americans.

Although the Americans have won once in five games, they have scored 13 goals, same as their opponents. The U.S. has lost, 2-1, twice and, 5-4, once.

"Three one-goal losses are tough to swallow," said Gionta, who plays for the New Jersey Devils and is one of the NHL's top scorers. "We need to erase that.

"It's single-elimination now. It doesn't matter what our records are."

Said forward Doug Weight: "We've got a lot of belief in each other. We're excited about trying to prove people wrong. We're not ready to go home yet."

The Russians play a wide-open style, and, truth be told, the Americans would rather take their chances against a Finnish style that more closely resembles NHL play.

"The Finns have talent," said Weight, "but when we play them, it always seems like it turns into a playoff-type game, 2-1 or 3-1 with ugly-type goals."

A couple of American goals, ugly or otherwise, might not frighten the Finns today. In five games, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks' Selanne has six goals, all by himself.

"I think we have a good chance to advance to the semifinals," said Finnish forward Niko Kapanen. "We are nice guys, a good team and we've beat them in the past."

Bill Shaikin writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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