It's win or go home from the World Cup of Hockey 2016 for Team Russia, which needs to defeat Team Finland at Air Canada Centre on Thursday (3 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN, TVA Sports) to qualify for the semifinals.
Team Russia rebounded from a 2-1 loss to Team Sweden in its opener by holding off Team North America 4-3 on Monday. A win against Team Finland would give Team Russia and Team North America identical 2-1-0 records, but Team Russia would advance because it holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Team Finland is playing its final game of the tournament after losing 4-1 to Team North America and 2-0 to Team Sweden.
Here are the reasons for optimism for Team Finland and Team Russia:
1. The Process is Working:
The loss to Team Sweden came despite the fact that Team Finland had a 36-29 edge in shots on goal, carried the play for much of the game and had a number of excellent scoring chances. Team Finland played much better than it did in the loss to Team North America; the only thing it didn't do was put the puck in the net.
"You have to respect the result," coach Lauri Marjamaki said afterward. "We played such a great game, started off well, I thought we had so many good scoring chances, but we didn't score."
2. Rallying Around Rask:
After Pekka Rinne struggled against Team North America, Marjamaki started Tuukka Rask against Team Sweden. Rask played well enough to win, allowing allowed one goal on 28 shots (the second went into an empty net) and looked like the goaltender who helped Team Finland win the bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Rask is expected to play against Team Russia.
3. Win and You're in:
Team Russia knows exactly what it has to do to advance: defeat Team Finland. A win of any kind moves Team Russia into a semifinal game against Team Canada. Team Russia has its fate in its own hands and doesn't need any outside help.
"We need one more win to go through," said forward Vladimir Tarasenko, one of four members of Team Russia to score in the win against Team North America. "We have time now to find out our mistakes in the first couple of games and all we need to do is play our best hockey, play for each other and get a win."
4. Sweet Revenge:
Everyone connected with Team Russia would like to get some payback for a couple of losses to Finland at major international events. Finland knocked Russia out of the 2014 Sochi Olympics and defeated Russia in the semifinals at this year's World Championship in Moscow.
With memories like those still fresh, there's no chance Team Russia will be overconfident against a team that has scored one goal in losing its first two games.
"We're not in the [semifinals] yet," forward Evgeny Kuznetsov said after practice Wednesday. "This is kind of a rivalry for us. We lost a few big games against Finland and we need to win that game."