Commentary

Things to know about Finland-Russia

Updated: February 18, 2014, 7:27 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

SOCHI, Russia -- Russia didn't look particularly impressive in beating Norway on Tuesday, and it's going to take more if the host country hopes to live out its golden dreams. The Russians will take on Finland at 7:30 a.m. ET, although the Finns will be the home team by virtue of their fourth seed.

Suomi, Suomi, Suomi!

A scary proposition indeed for Russia awaits in the quarters in the form of Finland, which beat the Russians in the Turin semifinals eight years ago.

What a tantalizing thought for the pesky Finns to knock out the host team and ruin their gold-medal dream on home soil.

"Home crowd, they're really anxious to win the gold, I know that," Finland's star netminder, Tuukka Rask, said Tuesday after practice, flashing a grin. "It's going to be a big challenge. But it's a fun one."

The game plan will be much like it was against Canada in a 2-1 overtime loss: a tight, defensive approach with the hope of cashing in on Russian mistakes. It's not terribly exciting, but the injury-plagued Finns -- missing Mikko Koivu, Valtteri Filppula and Aleksander Barkov -- have no choice in the matter.

"We don't have the personal [individual] skill level as Canadians or Russians," Rask said. "We have to play really well as a team, keep them to the outside, it worked really well against Canada. Despite a few turnovers, we didn't give up much. That's how we got to play tomorrow night."

That was a comment echoed by veteran blueliner Sami Salo.

"It will be similar as playing Canada; both teams have high-powered forwards and really big lineups," Salo said. "We have to be at the top of our game, especially in the defensive zone."

In a perfect world, Salo added, the Finns need to create more offense as well. They had only five scoring chances versus Canada.

"We need to create more offensively than we did against Canada," Salo said. "It's tough to play when you're chasing the game all the time, and that's what we did against Canada. We have to focus on getting more momentum that way."

One thing going for the Finns is that they've taken the fewest penalties in the tournament, short-handed only five times. That's key against a Russian power play that oozes all-world talent. Staying out of the box will be paramount for Finland.

Russia ready?

Russia's tepid 4-0 win over Norway in its qualifying-round match wasn't quite the performance Canada delivered against Germany in the qualifying round four years ago. And the Russians hardly looked like the team that played so well against Team USA on Saturday.

That's two straight unimpressive games for the host country, and it's not hard when you're sitting there at Bolshoy Ice Dome watching up close to see a team that's pressing under the immense weight of the nation.

Russia will need to step it up if it doesn't want its tournament to end Wednesday against a tough Finland squad.

In particular, Alex Ovechkin hasn't produced much offensively in this tournament. In fact, Ovechkin hasn't scored since scoring his team's first goal of the tournament just 77 seconds into the Slovenia game last Thursday.

I asked Ovechkin after Tuesday's game how he would rate his own performance so far in the tournament.

"The most important thing right now is the team," answered the Washington Capitals captain. "It's not about personal stats, it's not about the goal-scoring lead. We're here to win the gold, it's not about winning scoring titles and all the kind of stuff."

Well, he's got a point there no doubt.

And to be fair, Ovechkin was dangerous against Norway, including a breakaway chance, but he just didn't finish.

Perhaps he's saving his best for the medal round.

Semyon Varlamov AP Photo/Petr David JosekThe Russians are walking into a tough matchup with Finland in the quarterfinals.

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