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Monday, August 30, 2004
Four Finns score; Kiprusoff nets easy shutout

Associated Press

HELSINKI, Finland -- Miikka Kiprusoff stopped all 12 shots, and Saku Koivu and Niko Kapanen were among four goal scorers in Finland's 4-0 win over the Czech Republic in the World Cup of Hockey opener Monday.

Koivu of the Montreal Canadiens and Kapanen of the Dallas Stars were joined on the score sheet by Jukka Hentunen, who plays in Switzerland, and Mikko Eloranta, one of only two players on the team who plays in the Finnish League.

Finland outshot the Czech Republic 34-12.

"It was important to get the right feeling," said Kiprusoff, who helped lead the Calgary Flames to the Stanley Cup finals last season. "There was not much work to do, but a few times they broke in to the goal from the corners creating danger. I knew beforehand how the Czechs play, they don't fire that fast, rather they want to hold on to the puck."

Hentunen tapped a pass from Kapanen past Czech goalie Tomas Vokoun in the first to give Finland an early lead. The score stayed 1-0 until 30 seconds into the third period, when Koivu beat Vokoun with a backhander between the goalie's legs to make it 2-0.

Kapanen tipped in defenseman Sami Salo's wrister from just inside the blue line five minutes into the period to make it 3-0.

Eloranta rounded out the scoring at 8:51, knocking in a rebound after Vokoun made the initial save on defenseman Kimmo Timonen's shot.

"We were ready to play and could use the points of strength we had practiced for the last 10 days," said Koivu. "We were able to skate up front enough to put pressure on their defensemen. We have often had problems in offense, but now every line got the taste of goal."

Koivu's line, with Teemu Selanne of the Colorado Avalanche and Jere Lehtinen of Dallas, were reunited for the first time since the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan, when Finland beat Canada for the bronze medal.

"We played well, but every team will improve," Koivu said. "I was a bit surprised the Czechs were not better. The key was that we were moving very well and could put pressure on their defensemen, and they had to take penalties."

Sweden and Germany, the two other European pool teams, meet on Tuesday in Stockholm.

This was the first non-exhibition game for the Czechs since the death of coach Ivan Hlinka, who was killed in an automobile accident in the Czech Republic on the eve of the tournament.

Hlinka, a former coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, was replaced by former NHL player Vladimir Ruzicka.

With all four teams advancing to the quarterfinals after round-robin play, home-ice advantage could be vital before the tournament moves to North America for the semifinals and the final.

The United States, which beat Canada in the inaugural World Cup in 1996, opens play on Tuesday in Montreal against Canada. The other teams in the North American pool are Russia and Slovakia.

The championship game is Sept. 14 in Toronto. The collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and its players ends the following day. There is fear of a long lockout that could wipe out the 2004-05 regular season.

The World Cup is jointly run by the NHL and the NHL Players' Association.