BEIJING (Reuters) -Finland mounted a stunning comeback to beat local rivals Sweden 4-3 in overtime in a penalty-riddled Group C battle to claim top spot and a place in the quarter-finals of the men’s Olympic ice hockey tournament.
Finland, Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and the United States won their groups to reach the Beijing quarter-finals and were joined in the last eight by Sweden as the top second-place finisher.
The remaining eight teams will play in the qualification round with the four survivors also advancing to the knockout round.
Trailing 3-0 heading into the third period, the Finns converted on back-to-back powerplay chances before sneaking the puck under Swedish goaltender Magnus Hellberg’s leg for the equaliser. Forward Harri Pesonen clinched victory for the Sochi bronze medallists in overtime.
“When you are losing 3-0 it’s not easy to come back, especially score three goals in a period. It’s pretty nice to win the game in overtime,” said Finnish forward Iiro Pakarinen, who notched two of the three third-period goals.
“It’s always like that against Sweden, it’s always tight games. It’s fun to play against a rival,” he added.
It was a stunning reversal of fortune after forward Markus Granlund was ejected from the game in the second period for elbowing a Swedish defenceman in the head as the Nordic neighbours renewed their fierce rivalry.
Tournament officials in Beijing said Granlund could face additional discipline.
Taking the ice in front of flag-waving home fans at National Indoor Stadium, the Chinese team succumbed 5-0 to Canada, with Corban Knight, Adam Tambellini, Ben Street, Kent Johnson and Eric O’Dell each recording a goal.
China will get another chance against the perennial hockey powerhouse when they face off again in the qualification playoff round on Tuesday, after previously losing to the remaining two Group A opponents, Germany and the United States, in their Olympic debut.
“(We had) a strong two periods against Canada but we’ve got to figure out a way to put a full 60 minutes together because these guys are all-star teams and you can’t take your foot off the gas or they’ll make you pay,” said captain Ye Jinguang.
“We’ll go back to the drawing board and have a lot of fight next game.”
Across town at the Wukesong Sports Centre, the U.S. overcame an early deficit to beat Germany 3-2, with 19-year-old Matt Knies producing the go-ahead goal less than five minutes into the second period.
Earlier on Sunday, 17-year-old Juraj Slafkovsky helped Slovakia to their first win with a 5-2 victory over Latvia, scoring his fourth goal of the tournament.
“Before the tournament if someone would tell (me) I would score even one or two goals I would laugh, but it is actually happening,” said Slafkovsky, who is widely expected to be one of the top picks in this year’s National Hockey League draft.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery and Steve Keating in Beijing; Editing by Peter Rutherford, Ken Ferris and Bill Berkrot)