RIGA, Latvia — Nick Paul scored in overtime on an assist from Ottawa Senators teammate Connor Brown, and Canada completed its amazing turnaround at the world hockey championship with a 3-2 win over Finland in the gold-medal game on Sunday.
Paul and Brown completed a two-on-one break during the three-a-side overtime with Brown sliding the puck over to Paul, who beat Finnish goaltender Jussi Olkinuora 6:26 into the extra frame.
Maxime Comtois and Adam Henrique also scored for Canada, which looked down-and-out after losing its first three games in Riga before going on an improbable run to the top of the podium.
"We started off 0-3, not the start we wanted, but we came together as a group,” Paul said. “People counted us out, we knew we were going to come together, work hard and take it in the end and we did. We made it closer than we wanted, but it was an unbelievable, hard-fought game and I’m super proud right now.”
Brown assisted on all three of Canada's goals in the final to end the championship with a tournament-high 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) as Canada won its 27th world title and its third since 2015.
Mikael Ruohomaa and Petteri Lindbohm scored for Finland.
Andrew Mangiapane, whose arrival midway through the preliminary round provided a spark for Canada, was named player of the tournament. The Calgary Flames forward had seven goals — including the game-winners in Canada's quarterfinal and semifinal victories — and four assists in seven games.
“I think (Mangiapane) came in and added an element that we needed at the right time,” Henrique said. “Him coming over was huge for our team, our team chemistry, and it seemed to click on the ice, which was big for us moving forward.”
Darcy Kuemper had a solid performance in goal for Canada, turning aside 29 shots. Olkinuora made 23 saves for Finland.
Earlier, the United States claimed bronze with a 6-1 win over Germany.
Sunday's result was a measure of revenge for Canada, which denied Finland in its quest to win back-to-back world titles for the first time. The Finns beat Canada 3-1 in the 2019 world championship final. The 2020 tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finland also beat Canada 3-2 in a shootout on the final day of the preliminary round. The result almost knocked Canada out of medal contention.
“It feels great,” said Canada head coach Gerard Gallant. “Obviously we were in a deep hole early in the tournament, but we kept getting better and better. Tonight was an exceptional game and Finland is a great team.
"We had to battle hard against them, come from behind and fortunately for us we got the break in overtime, but hats off to Finland, they’re a great defending champion and it was a great game tonight.”
Canada got into early penalty trouble in the first period, and Finland eventually made them pay. Oliwer Kaski kept the puck in Canada's zone at the blue line, then fed Ruohomaa, who had slipped past Canada's defence. Ruohomaa beat Kuemper just as a high-sticking penalty to Paul was expiring.
Paul's infraction came shortly after Canada had killed off a penalty when a boarding minor and a 10-minute misconduct was assessed to Justin Danforth.
Canada tied it up 4:30 into the second period on a power play. Brown's shot hit the post and bounced around until eventually falling to Comtois, who beat Olkinuora in close.
Canada had appeared to take a 2-1 lead later in the period when Henrique beat Olkinuora, but defenceman Owen Power was called offside.
Lindbohm put Finland back in front 5:27 into the third period when his snap shot from the edge of the left face-off circle beat Kuemper.
Henrique tied it 2-2 on a power play 18 seconds after Paul drew a tripping penalty on Ruohomaa. Comtois fed Canada's captain in front, who put the puck past Olkinuora. That set the stage for Paul's championship-winning goal.
“You get familiar with how Finland plays. They play such a structured and tight defensive game,” Henrique said. “We knew it was going to be a battle. We knew we were going to have to find a way to score a few goals to win because once they get a lead, they are tough to come back on and they’ve proven that year after year.”
Canada's participation in the gold-medal game seemed highly unlikely during the first half of the preliminary round.
The Canadians opened with a 2-0 loss to host Latvia, then two days later were thumped 5-1 by the Americans.
A 3-1 loss to Germany then put Canada at 0-3, and in danger of not making the quarterfinals of a world championship or Olympics for the first time.
Down but not out, Canada started to claw its way back into the tournament with a 4-2 win over Norway. Mangiapane gave a preview of how important his addition would become, scoring the winning goal in his tournament debut.
The roster assembled by Canada's brass, including first-time general manager Roberto Luongo, seemed to come together as the tournament progressed. Canada followed its victory over Norway with a 4-2 win over Kazakhstan, which was in a playoff position in Group B at the time, and then evened its record at 3-3 with a 7-1 rout of winless Italy.
Those results put Canada in control of its playoff destiny, but the shootout loss to Finland meant the Canadians were going to need some help to get into the top four in the group. They got it when Germany closed the preliminary round with a 2-1 regulation win over Latvia, denying the hosts the necessary point to dislodge Canada from the top four.
Canada made the most of the opportunity, with Mangiapane scoring in overtime in a 2-1 quarterfinal upset of Group A winner Russia, then earning a bit of revenge against its North American rival with a 4-2 win over the U.S., the top seed in Group B, in the semifinal.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2021.
The Canadian Press