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By Lucas Aykroyd IIHF.com

This represented a major bounce back after a disappointing fifth-place finish four years ago in Sochi. It was a joyful moment for coach Pasi Mustonen’s team, which came to Korea expecting to medal and came through in the end.

“Winning a medal was our goal coming into the Olympics, and we know on a good day we have a chance even against the U.S. or Canada,” said Finnish captain Jenni Hiirikoski. “But the U.S. was really good [to beat Finland] in the semi-final, so this was what we wanted to win today.”

The Finns also came third in the inaugural Nagano 1998 tournament and in Vancouver 2010.

Susanna Tapani set the pace with a goal and an assist. Her 2-0 marker, just 10 seconds into the second period, set a new Olympic record for the fastest goal from the start of a period. The old record of 19 seconds belonged to Slovakia’s Janka Culikova, who scored in the third period of a 5-2 loss to Switzerland on 17 February, 2010.

Petra Nieminen and Linda Valimaki also scored for Finland. Top Finnish netminder Noora Raty, who played every game, outduelled her counterpart Nadezhda Morozova. Shots were even at 22 apiece.

“This is awesome!” said Raty. “It’s one of the best days of my life. We’ve been waiting for this for four years, ever since Sochi. We beat Sweden in overtime in Vancouver, and that was a great feeling to beat your biggest rival. But we were underdogs in that game; we were favourites today, I think, so there was more pressure.”

“We played together, and we played as a team,” said Valimaki. “That’s the main reason we won. It’s an amazing feeling, and now we can celebrate the medal.”

Lyudmila Belyakova potted a goal and an assist for the OAR team and captain Olga Sosina had a single.

“In a way, the tournament was still successful for us, but if I had a medal around my neck I’d be a lot happier now,” said Sosina.

Indeed, it wasn’t all bad news for the red-and-white squad, which played better than in the 5-1 group stage loss to Finland. Fourth place marks the best Olympic finish ever for a Russian women’s team. Russia came fifth in Salt Lake City in 2002.

Finnish forward Riikka Valila is the last remaining active player from the 1998 Olympics, which she led in scoring. At 44, she continues to excel. Her top line with Tapani and Michelle Karvinen was dangerous throughout the game.

“After Sochi, everything was chaos, but then we started to build our team, both the players and the organization,” said Valila. “Our goal was to win a medal for the last four years. “

This was a tightly contested affair after both teams lost their semi-finals 5-0, Finland to the Americans and the OAR women to the Canadians.

Facing the tournament’s most-penalized team, the Finns drew first blood on their first power play. Minnamari Tuominen stepped in from the centre point to loft a backhand and Nieminen deftly tipped it in mid-air past the Russian netminder for her third goal of the Games at 2:23.

It was the second time Finland’s youngest player has opened the scoring in these playoffs. The 18-year-old Nieminen also did it in the 7-2 quarter-final win over Sweden.

“We had a lot of good scorers in the tournament, and we have a new generation coming, like Nieminen and the younger girls,” said Hiirikoski. “It’s nice to see them step up as well.”

The Russians had their chances as the period went on. Raty came out to block Belyakova on an OAR outnumbered rush. Later, Alevtina Shtaryova wristed one that hit Raty’s glove and then the post. In the last minute of the first, Ronja Savolainen capitalized on a Russian pratfall to go one-on-one with Morozova, but the puck drifted off her stick.

To start the middle frame, Finland got a two-goal lead thanks to its top line. Off the opening faceoff, Karvinen and Tapani executed a lovely give-and-go, and Tapani scored high to the stick side.

The Russians didn’t capitulate. At 2:40, Sosina one-timed Belyakova’s cross-ice pass over Raty’s glove to cut the deficit to 2-1. The Finns overcompensated with physicality and the OAR team hemmed them in with an extended power play, including a 5-on-3 for 0:39, but couldn’t tie it up.

Finland grabbed a 3-1 lead at 12:18. Venla Hovi went cross-ice to a streaking Valimaki and she cut to the net made a great backhand deke to beat Morozova.

With just over two minutes left in the second, Belyakova’s hip slammed into Raty’s head as she split the Finnish defence on a wild rush. The Finnish netminder was all right, but Belyakova headed off for goalie interference.

At 6:03 of the third, Belyakova executed the play she wanted when she got in for another solo rush and tucked a backhand home to make it 3-2 on a Russian power play.

“They played well, especially in the third,” said Hiirikoski. “They did everything to score but we just needed to move the puck and control the puck in their zone.”

With five minutes left in regulation, Finland’s Isa Rahunen took a bodychecking penalty on Anna Shokhina in the corner. It could have proved costly, but since Shokhina promptly bopped Hiirikoski with a high-stick, the Russian advantage was nullified.

Assiduous Finnish checking kept the OAR team from pulling Morozova until an icing call on Finland with nine seconds left. Off the faceoff, the Finns tied the puck up along the boards, and celebrated with gloves and sticks cast away when the horn sounded. Karvinen leapt into the taller Mira Jalosuo’s arms for a hug while the goalies exchanged chest bumps.

Shokhina was assessed a major and game misconduct for kicking at the end.

All game long, Russian supporters among the Kwandong Hockey Centre crowd of 3,217 fervently chanted their country’s name. However, while the OAR men’s team was busy demolishing Norway 6-1 in a quarter-final, the women weren’t able to defeat their own Nordic opponents. Russian women’s hockey still needs the right kind of support to hit the next level.

“We have a very good team, a very young team with a lot of potential,” said Sosina.

It was the first Olympic bronze battle between these two sides. At the Women’s Worlds, Russia beat Finland for third in the 2001, 2013, and 2016 bronze medal games. Finland returned the favor in 2011 and 2015.

Finland owns 12 Women’s World Championship bronze medals, more than any other nation. Despite losing 3-1 to the U.S. and 4-1 to Canada in the group stage prior to a 5-0 quarter-final loss to the Canadians, the Finns remain the team most capable of challenging North America’s hegemony. They will host the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championship and hope to take that next step in front of their loyal fans.

“We want to be the best,” said Karvinen. “We’ve been trying to catch up with the U.S. and Canada. Some games we do, but we couldn’t in the semi-finals. But the future will change. We’re hungry and we have the support.”