For a tournament that's built a reputation for twists, turns, surprises and dramatic finishes, the Gold medal game for the 2014 World Junior Championship did not disappoint.
Finland, a major underdog coming into this year, weathered the storm against a powerful Swedish team and upset the host nation thanks to a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory.
Defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen was the hero for Finland as he danced around a Swedish defenceman and slid a beautiful backhand shot underneath goaltender Oscar Dansk 9:42 into extra time, stunning the previously-unbeaten Swedish team in front of thousands of their fans that were in attendance.
Finnish goaltender Jusse Saros was also a major difference-maker, generating 35 saves in a game where Finland was primarily outplayed and outshot 37-31.
It was the first time that Finland has won a medal at the WJC since taking Bronze in 2006, and the first time that they won Gold since 1998.
For Sweden, a team that barely broke a sweat in going with a perfect record of 6-0 up until to today's game, it's back to the drawing board, losing in the championship match and finishing with a Silver medal for the second year in a row.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day Russia skated to a 2-1 victory over Canada to secure the Bronze, making it the first time since the early 1980s that Canada has gone two years in a row without medalling, while Russia matches the bronze that it won in 2013.
Taking the opening faceoff in front of a roaring home crowd, things couldn't have started any worse for Sweden.
Only 28 seconds into the game Dallas Stars 3rd rounder Esa Lindell stepped into a loose puck at the point and fired a hard shot past Dansk, giving Finland a shocking 1-0 lead early on.
From that point on, the game began to take shape, showcasing the vastly differing styles of play for both teams: Sweden, with dominating speed and puck possession, and Finland, who focused on a tight 1-2-2 defensive setup, shot blocking, and clearing pucks out from in front of their star netminder Saros.
Sweden's size and speed was menacing, and the constant pressure that it put on Finland's defenses began to draw penalties. Sweden tied the game at 1-1 on the powerplay midway through the second, but Finland answered right back at even strength less than a minute later thanks to a tournament-leading 7th goal from forward Saku Maenalanen.
Finland continued to get into penalty trouble into the third as Sweden continued to attack, surrendering three consecutive powerplays early into the third and five straight in the game. Their 1st overall penalty kill, once again largely in part to the fantastic play of Saros, looked like it would be able to hold the fort until Swedish defenceman Christian Djoos' seeing-eye slapshot broke through, finding the top corner with 9:07 to go to tie things up 2-2.
The two teams traded chances for the remainder of regulation but neither team could capitalize, setting the stage for a 20-minute overtime.
It was there that Ristolainen, playing in his third World Juniors, showcased why the Buffalo Sabres selected him 8th overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. In 4-on-4 play it is defencemen that usually wind up making the most impact, and after a couple of failed rushes into the Swedish zone Ristolainen wouldn't be denied a third time, making a fantastic sweeping move around defenceman Robert Hagg before sliding the puck under Dansk to win the game 3-2.
The Finnish bench erupted as sticks and helmets flew into the air. Some Swedish players stared on in disbelief, while others, such as Swedish captain Filip Forsberg, lied face-down on the ice feeling the agony of defeat.
Saros looked like he had ice in his veins all game, handling the pressure of the final game with masterful poise. He was named the player of the game for Finland.
For a team that entered the tournament outgunned in terms of talent and considered a major longshot to win Gold, Finland found other ways to win. They played exceptional team defense, blocking shots, clogging lanes, and clearing out pucks, with everyone chipping in, including star forward Teuvo Teravainen. Finnish head coach Karri Kivi deserves a ton of credit for getting everything that he possibly could out of his roster.
For Sweden, it marks the second year in a row of heartbreak. Many of the players on this year's roster were also part of the 2013 team that lost Gold to the United States. But to their credit, Sweden was hands-down the best team in the tournament coming in, and they played another strong game in the final. They just fell one goal short on the wrong side of the outcome.
Russia - Canada
In the bronze medal game it was a tale of two dejected teams, as Russia and Canada both had their Gold medal aspirations dashed yesterday,
However, both teams still came out to play with the Bronze on the line. It was a tight matched through and through, but it was the Russian team that came out on top, winning 2-1.
Mikhail Grigorenko's shot bounced off of a Canadian skate and into the net only 3:35 into the first, and at that point you could tell that it was going to be another one of those games for a Canadian team that came into the tournament with a lot of expectations placed upon them but failed to live up to them. Eduard Gimatov made it 2-0 Russia before the end of the first.
Canada tried to mount another comeback, even scoring one in the third thanks to a Josh Morrissey redirection, but it wasn't enough. Russian goaltender Andrei Vasilevski stood tall with 30 saves to help his team win Bronze. Canada's powerplay had five chances in the game, but was unable to convert.
With the Bronze, it marks the fourth consecutive year that Russia has won a medal at the tournament. For Team Canada, who won five Gold medals in a row from 2005-2009, the questions will be asked now louder than ever: for a nation with so much hockey talent, what exactly went wrong?
And with that, the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championships come to a close. The 2015 tournament comes next December and January, held in Toronto and Montreal.