BEIJING (Reuters) -Forward Arseni Gritsyuk sent defending champions Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) into the gold medal game when he scored the winning goal in the eighth round of a tense shootout against Sweden, with Finland awaiting them in the Beijing Olympic final.
Team ROC stood at the bench with their arms wrapped around one another, their gold medal title defence on the line, as Gritsyuk sent the decider ricocheting off the pole and into the net to secure the 2-1 win.
“It was pretty nervous out there on the bench. I was really nervous, it was the most nervous thing in my life I think. Some of the shootouts I was so nervous I didn’t even look I think,” said defenceman Damir Sharipzyanov.
“We are going to celebrate a little in the room and get ready for the next game.”
The clincher came at the end of a long and hard-fought battle against the Sochi silver medallists, who pushed it into overtime midway through a chippy third period but must now settle for a bronze medal attempt.
“We played a good game, we are happy with the way we played, we had more chances but we didn’t find a way to score more goals. They found a way,” Swedish head coach Johan Garpenlov told reporters.
“We had a few chances there in the third period to score that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
ROC now face Finland, who defeated Slovakia 2-0 for a place in Sunday’s gold medal game.
Finland scored the only goal of an opening period that produced few scoring chances.
But Sakari Manninen made one of Finland’s seven shots count by pouncing on a rebound and lifting it over sprawling netminder Patrik Rybar for a 1-0 lead.
The rest of the game featured a goaltending duel between Rybar and Harri Sateri, who made 28 saves to earn the shutout, with Harri Pesonen finding the net to round off the win for Finland.
The game’s only other goal came with 39 seconds remaining with Pesonen scoring into an empty net after Slovakia pulled their netminder for an extra-attacker in a bid to draw level.
Finland has regularly featured on the Olympic podium, returning home with a medal from three of the last four Winter Games but has yet to reach the top step.
“I knew coming into the Olympics that we’re going to have a really good team, solid team, veteran team, a lot of experienced guys,” said Pesonen.
Slovakia’s hunt for a first Olympic men’s ice hockey medal continues when they play for the bronze.
“It’s a big thing that we made it to semi-finals but now we still have (an) unfinished job,” said Slovakia’s 17-year-old scoring sensation Juraj Slafkovsky, who is tied for the Games lead in goals with five.
Slovakia will face Sweden in Saturday’s bronze medal game.
(Reporting by Steve Keating and Amy Tennery in Beijing; Editing by Ken Ferris, Jacqueline Wong and Toby Davis)