POPRAD, SLOVAKIA - APRIL 20: Players from team Finland celebrate after Santeri Virtanen #22 overtime game winning goal to win 6-5 against Czech Republic during quarterfinal round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Czechs rally from 5-1 down but Virtanen scores winner
The Czechs mounted the greatest comeback in U18 history only to lose with 58.5 seconds left in overtime.
Santeri Virtanen knocked in a loose puck from the crease with 58.5 seconds left to give Finland a 6-5 win and a place in the semi-finals.
"We forced a turnover in our own zone," Virtanen recalled, "and as we went through the neutral zone I gave a pass to Miro [Heiskanen]. He drove to the net and was stopped, but I put it home. Thank God we won."
Indeed, the Czechs tied a record for greatest comeback in IIHF history, men or women, any event category. Had they won, the Finns might have taken many a year to forget.
"We didn't have a good start, obviously," said Czech forward Ondrej Machala, "but we went to the dressing room after the first period and started talking about what we did well and what we didn't. We didn't block shots. We didn't shoot on the net. But we fixed that and tied it 5-5. We showed everyone here that we played like a team. We wanted to go further, but we are proud of what we did today."
"I don't know what happened," Virtanen said. "We let our foot off the gas a little bit, started taking silly penalties. Our game just wasn't the same. This was a good lesson for us, but we're confident heading to the semi-finals."
The Finns scored the early goal to set the tone. Defenceman Heiskanen's point shot went all the way at 2:19, and Suomi had the start it wanted.
Five minutes later, though, the Czechs tied the score thanks to another goal from the blue line. This time it was Dalimil Mikyska with a bullet drive that beat Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
The rest of the period was dominated by the Finns. Linus Nyman made it 2-1 at 14:09 off the rush. Coming in on a three-on-two, he tried to pass the puck across the crease, but a defenceman slid to block the pass only to see the puck dribble past Jakub Skarek at 18:26.
Then, two quick and late goals. Urho Vaakanainen converted a rebound to the back side of Skarek on a power play, and then captain Aarne Talvitie jumped on a rebound in the slot at 19:14 to make it 4-1. Coach Vaclav Varada didn't even wait for the impending intermission to make a goalie change, pulling Skarek in favour of Jiri Patera with those 46 seconds remaining.
The Finns made it 5-1 at 5:24 of the second when Talvitie scored on a rebound, again lax defence around the Czech goalie proving costly.
"We were moving our legs really well," Virtanen explained. "We were first to pucks, got to rebounds, create scoring chances, and put them home."
The rout seemed to be on, but then something strange happened.
The Czechs refused to give up, and the rest of the second period was mirror opposite to the first. It was the Czechs who scored three times and dominated as the Finns were caught off guard by the lack of quit in their opponents.
Filip Chytil made it 5-2 off a rebound at 7:02, and five minutes later Marek Skvrne made a fine solo dash, finishing with a deke and sliding the puck between Luukkonen's pads.
Then, with only 1:25 left in the period, the Czechs scored on the power play when a point shot by Machala went all the way.
The third was tense but the Czechs pressed, knowing they still needed a goal. It took most of the period, but they completed their comeback at 17:23 off an odd-man rush, Filip Zadina sliding the puck in front to Jan Hladonik. He eluded Kristian Vesalainen, fighting to get back on coverage, and tipped the puck in the open side.
That made it 5-5, setting the stage for a wild finish in OT.