Dallas Stars’ Jamie Benn, Kari Lehtonen Play Crucial Roles in Sochi Semifinals
Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn wasn’t included in the early plans for Team Canada, having been snubbed an invite to the Olympic training camp. Goalie Kari Lehtonen was questionable for Team Finland behind the likes of Tuukka Rask, Pekka Rinne and Antti Niemi. Yet when it came time to announce Olympic rosters in January, both Stars found a place on their respective countries’ team.
For Canada, it became a no-brainer to include Benn after his stellar play in the first half of the season. Lehtonen also performed well, but an injured Rinne made the decision for Finland to include the Dallas netminder an easy one. Still, no one could have predicted the huge role that both would play for his country in the semifinal round in Sochi.
The semifinal match between the United States and Canada was a highly anticipated rematch of the 2010 Vancouver gold medal game. The United States sought redemption for the 2010 loss while Canada looked to spark an underperforming offense and push through to the gold medal game. All eyes were on superstar Sidney Crosby, who had not tallied a single goal throughout the tournament, to lead his country to victory.
Instead, the hero of the game was Benn. Benn had played on several different lines during the tournament including a line featuring Benn, Crosby and Patrice Bergeron. For this game, head coach Mike Babcock opted to pair Benn with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. This proved to be the perfect combination. Moments into the second period, Benn redirected a puck from Jay Bouwmeester into the back of the United States’ net for the lone goal of the game.
But it wasn’t enough to score the winning goal for Benn. He played a complete game, putting his tremendous talent and skill set on display for the world to see. In the past he’s been cited as one of the most underrated hockey players in the NHL. Now everyone knows what Dallas Stars fans have been saying for years: Benn is a powerhouse.
Earlier in the day, Lehtonen was also given a chance to shine in Sochi. Lehtonen had been given the start for Finland in the preliminary round against Norway and came away with a win, but it seemed that he would spend the rest of the Olympic tournament serving as back up for Rask. Nothing is ever set in stone though, and when Rask came down with the flu, Lehtonen was given the nod for the semifinal against Sweden. This was arguably the biggest game to date for Lehtonen and a chance to help his team through to the gold medal game.
Both Finland and Sweden are known for their solid defense and shut down goaltending, so it was expected to be a low scoring affair from the start. Lehtonen made several key saves throughout the first half of the game and displayed his incredible knack for making big stops. But with Finland up by a goal in the second period, it was former teammate Loui Eriksson that evened up the score. Minutes later Erik Karlsson would score the game-winning goal on the power play to give the Swedes a 2-1 victory.
Although the end result was not what Lehtonen would have liked, he proved that he was capable of stepping into a high-stakes game with little notice and performing. Lehtonen faced a total of 25 shots and certainly gave his country a fighting chance. It will be interesting to see if Finland sticks with Lehtonen for the bronze medal game against the United States or opts for San Jose Sharks goalie Niemi.