Russia, Finland advance to hockey worlds final

Russia players celebrate their victory in a semifinal match between over Sweden. 

Darko Bandic/AP

MINSK, Belarus — Finland blanked the Czech Republic 3-0 in the semifinals of the ice hockey world championship on Saturday to set up a final against Russia.

Earlier Saturday, Russia beat defending champion Sweden 3-1 in a matchup of the last two title holders to advance to the title game.

Finland’s Jori Lehtera netted a backhand in the first period before Jarkko Immonen scored on a power play in the second and Lehtera added his second into the empty net in the third.

Finland struggled in the group stage, losing three games, and needed a help from Switzerland to advance before eliminated Canada in the quarterfinals.

Russia meanwhile, has won all nine of its games at the tournament, and is now one win away from its second title in three years. Finland last won in 2011.

"Our team has a character," Russia coach Oleg Znarok said.

Showing off its attacking power, Russia rebounded from an opening goal by Oscar Moller just 19 seconds into the game as Sergei Plotnikov and Sergei Shirokov both scored later in the first period.

Defenseman Anton Belov drove a slap shot into the net on a rebound to make it 3-1 in the second in front of roaring Russian fans.

Russia outshot Sweden 34-23, while goaltender Sergei Bobrovski made big saves to deny Moller and Joakim Lindstrom in the middle period.

Danis Zaripov and defensman Evgeni Medvedev had two assists each and star forward Alex Ovechkin got one assist in his second straight game after recovering from a right leg injury.

"I had a new knee brace and felt much better," Ovechkin said. "I can’t say I am 100 percent fit but the situation is that one must be ready for anything. We have one game left and we must do everything to make sure we win."

Plotnikov scored from the right circle on a rebound after 13:25 and Shirokov wristed a shot past goaltender Anders Nilsson to put Russia 2-1 ahead with two minutes left in the period.

"I don’t think we came up to our best level," Nilsson said. "I think they were better than us today, they had more chances and we didn’t create enough chances to win."

Sweden pulled Nilsson with more than 2 minutes to play in the third and their advantage increased to 6-on-4 when Denis Denisov was penalized for interference with 1:40 remaining. But all Swedish hopes ended when Mikael Backlund was ejected for a hit on Plotnikov.

That incident prompted angry exchanges between Znarok and a Swedish team official.

Sweden and the Czechs now have to recover for Sunday’s bronze medal game.

"It’s not the medal we wanted to play for the last game but we don’t want to go home empty handed," Sweden forward Gustav Nyquist said.