The medal round is upon us, with only four nations left in the 2012 IIHF World Championships. The entire event has moved to Helsinki, FInland, while Stockholm will have to wait until next year in order to host the medal rounds. The good news for Helsinki fans is that their beloved Leijonat are alive, facing one of their biggest rivals in Russia. Finland beat Russia a year ago in a spectacular semifinal on the strength of Mikael Granlund's iconic goal. In the other semifinal, the Czech Republic and Slovakia meet in a rare late meeting between the two countries that separated from each other two decades ago.
The early game is giving the host nation a bit of home ice advantage, allowing for the maximum rest for Finland before Sunday's medal games. Russia comes into this game on a roll, without a blemish in their record to date, winning all of their games in regulation including some impressive wins over Sweden in the round robin and Norway in the quarterfinal. Evgeni Malkin didn't need to be dominant in that quarterfinal match, though he leads all remaining scorers with 15 points. Finland got late heroics on a pair of goals in the final minutes of their quarterfinal against the USA, with Jesse Jonesuu scoring the winner with just nine seconds remaining. As mentioned above, this is a rematch of last year's semifinal which produced the goal of the year from Mikael Granlund. Granlund has yet to hit the back of the net this tournament, and is in fact without a goal in three months of play.
This is hockey's fun rivalry, really a battle of big brother vs. little brother in a lot of cases. The Czechs are one of the elite nations of hockey and have been ever since 1993, while Slovakia has had to punch above its weight and has achieved success in spurts. It's never easy for Slovakia to take on the Czechs, but this year the teams look awfully even in a lot of respects. The Czechs have a lot of stars up front, but the Slovaks have stars on their blue line, led by Zdeno Chara, whose presence has brought Slovakia back from the fringes of the World Championships the past couple of years to the medal rounds. Both teams won with late game heroics against favoured rivals: the Czechs scored the winner with 29 seconds left after relinquishing a 3-1 lead to Sweden, while Slovakia blew a 2-0 lead to Canada, then came back from 3-2 down to win the game on a PP in the final minutes.
Watch the action on TV and talk about the games as they happen here.