Commentary

Offensive outburst paces Finland

Without two key offensive members, Finns light up the scoreboard in their opener

Updated: February 13, 2014, 10:01 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

SOCHI, Russia -- Well, if Austria can give up eight goals on 52 shots to Finland, let your mind wander to what's up next with Team Canada as the opposition for Austria on Friday night.

[+] EnlargeMikael Granlund
Scott Rovak/USA TODAY SportsMikael Granlund had two goals in a dominant performance by Finland.
This Finnish team was expected to struggle offensively in this tournament after losing key players Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula to injury. Even when Finland is healthy, goals are hard to come by at the Olympics. They win medals in Olympic hockey (one silver and two bronze since '98) based on strong goaltending, solid defensive play and a grinding cycle from their forwards.

When Finland lost Koivu and Filppula before the tournament, it made you wonder where exactly the goals would come from.

But on this day, the Finns all looked like Jari Kurri circa 1984, flying all over the ice in a thorough 8-4 win thanks to open lanes and second-chance rebounds generously donated by an Austrian defense that looked out of its depth.

"If you had told me before the game we'd score four goals against Finland, I'd think we would have had a chance," said Austrian star winger Thomas Vanek, who had an assist. "But to let in eight? Our goalie needs to be the best player, and we need to help him out better.

"If guys didn't know what to expect out of this tournament, I think they got a good reality check today."

Ouch. But at least he's honest.

"We need to play tighter," Vanek said, looking ahead to the rest of the tournament. "We're going to give up a lot of shots; we know that, but we need to make sure 90 percent of the shots are from the outside and not give them the second and third opportunities. That's what hurt us today."

Thing is, led by Michael Grabner's hat trick, the Austrians did create offensively, putting four goals past Tuukka Rask.

But that defense ...

"I thought to start off the game we were good; we were ready to start the game, which was fun to see," Vanek said. "In the back end, we knew we were not the quickest and the fastest, and our goaltender [Bernhard Starkbaum] -- if we're going to beat a team like this -- he needs to be the best player. I thought he was good for us, but not great. That's not a knock on him; that's just reality."

For the Finns, while there's an understanding that they weren't playing a powerhouse team, filling the net with eight goals will do good for their confidence given that people think their offense is shot in this tournament after losing Koivu and Filppula.

"Obviously, those two guys are big losses for us," Finnish center Mikael Granlund said. "But we need other guys to step up; we need to have four good lines, and we need to play hard."

The Minnesota Wild center has been promoted to the top center job after the injury losses, and he responded brilliantly in the opener with two goals and an assist, looking dangerous on every shift.

It just continues for him what has been a real good stretch of hockey going back to the past month with the Wild.

"Yeah, we had a pretty good stretch there, I had a chance to play big minutes," Granlund said of his past month in the NHL. "There's some confidence right now; just want to keep it going and have some fun."

Granlund and Florida Panthers rookie Aleksander Barkov looked terrific together.

"That's huge. We're going to need that first line with Granlund and Barkov to get some goals for us, and that's what they did today," said Finland winger Jussi Jokinen of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had a goal and an assist Thursday. "Obviously, Granlund feels like he's really comfortable on the big ice. He's got more time, and he can make plays when he has time."

What better assignment for Granlund than centering the legendary Teemu Selanne, as well.

Selanne left the game after the opening period and was seen on the bench getting treatment on his neck area. The Finnish Flash, playing in his sixth Olympics, was likely held back only for precautionary reasons, given that Finland plays again Friday.

"I know he only played the first period, but that was fun. Hopefully he's all right," Granlund said.

Finland head coach Erkka Westerlund said after the game that Selanne had a "small upper-body injury" that wasn't serious and that he was likely to play Friday.

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