Koivu's tally the difference


ST. PAUL, Minn. -- While Finland celebrated one of its
biggest international victories, the United States lamented a
couple of bad late bounces.

The World Cup of Hockey semifinal was so close, the roles could
easily have been reversed. But the Finns got the final break -- and
a berth in the championship game.

Saku Koivu's unchallenged goal with 3:54 left lifted Finland to
a 2-1 victory Friday night.

"The Finnish teams, usually they die," coach Raimo Summanen
said. "This was a huge step for Finnish hockey. I'm really proud
that we believed."

The U.S. team, which led 1-0 with 15 minutes remaining, was
denied a chance to defend its 1996 World Cup title despite limiting
Finland to 12 shots on goal.

"We knew what we were up against with their defensive style,"
said U.S. captain Chris Chelios, who probably played his last
international game. "One bounce. ... We knew that's what it would
come down to."

The Finns advanced to the title game Tuesday night in Toronto,
where they will face either the Czech Republic or Canada -- who play
Saturday night in the other semifinal.

Finland has won only one major international title, the 1995
World Championships.

"We talked before the game that we would never have a chance
like this again," Koivu said.

He and his teammates swarmed goalie Miikka Kiprusoff when the
horn sounded, and the mob of blue jerseys slid back toward the
boards to celebrate their trip to the final.

"It's going to be a big party there back home," Kiprusoff

Doug Weight's power-play goal on a pretty pass from Scott Gomez
gave the United States and goalie Robert Esche the lead midway
through the second period, but Kiprusoff kept Finland in it with
another sound performance in goal.

Kiprusoff -- whose Calgary Flames beat U.S. coach Ron Wilson's
NHL team, the San Jose Sharks, in the Western Conference final last
season -- made 16 saves. Esche stopped 10 shots.

"If I was to count the scoring chances, we probably had six and
they might have had three over the course of the whole evening,"
Wilson said. "Kipper was there when he needed to be, but I don't
think we tested him enough and I think that's a credit to their
overall game plan to play solid defense and wait for us to make a

Esche called both goals flukes. Olli Jokinen knocked in a loose
puck to tie it at 1 early in the third, snapping the Finns out of
their slumber after they managed just seven shots on goal through
two periods.

Teppo Numminen's shot glanced off two American defenders between
the circles, and Jokinen turned around to find the puck right in
front of him.

The second one was set up Ossi Vaananen -- who sent the puck
across the ice to Koivu, camped out at the right post. Both Esche
and Koivu were convinced Vaananen was trying to shoot.

Koivu bobbled the puck twice but still had plenty of time to put
an uncontested shot in as Brian Leetch and Tony Amonte arrived too

"We completely lost our coverage in our end," Wilson said.
"Had a total breakdown."

Though disappointed by the outcome and sad to see Chelios go,
the Americans were pleased with their performance in the tournament
after losing their first two preliminary games.

"I really believe in my heart that we did everything we had to
do," forward Bill Guerin said. "We played well. It just didn't
work out."

Said Chelios: "It's been great playing with these guys. We
certainly have nothing to be embarrassed about."

It could be a long time before the Americans play another game
that counts, with a labor dispute threatening to wipe out a big
chunk -- if not all -- of the NHL season.

"It's obviously disappointing when you're done, especially
now," Gomez said. "Who knows when we'll be playing again."