After falling just short in a late third-period rally in their 3-2 semifinal loss to Canada, Zdeno Chara and Slovakia fell victim to a four-goal rally by Finland in the final frame of the bronze-medal game and failed to earn their first-ever medal in a 5-3 loss to the Finns.
Chara finished the tournament with three assists, including one on a second-period Marian Gaborik goal, but as his teammate Marian Hossa (goal, assist) pointed out, the Slovaks cared much more about team results than their individual stats.
?We wanted a medal so badly,? Hossa told NHL.com. ?It?s just a tough pill to swallow right now because we were in a great position coming into the third, and we got into penalty trouble.?
Pavol Demitra, who missed an open net with seven seconds left in the semifinal loss to Canada that would've tied the game, scored the other Slovakia goal.
Two of Finland's four third-period goals, one by Olli Jokinen and the other by Niklas Hagman, came on the man advantage. Jokinen and Valtteri Filppula had the other Finland lamplighters. Down 3-1 at the second intermission, Finland captain Saku Koivu brought his team together and gave a speech trying to rally them to victory.
Jokinen apparently got the message and had a monster third period, leading his team to the bronze medal-earning win. After the game, Jokinen said it meant a lot to go out and win one for Koivu and other veterans — like Teemu Selanne — who are playing in their final Olympics.
?Saku made a speech," Jokinen told NHL.com. ?It?s special. Half of these guys aren?t going to wear the [Finland] jersey again.?
Jokinen's teammates were impressed that he seized the moment and led them to a medal.
?He?s just a goal scorer and a clutch player,? said Finnish teammate Tuomo Ruutu to NHL.com about Jokinen. ?He just had an amazing night — again.?
Selanne, who will be 40 in July, finished the tournament as the all-time leading scorer in men's Olympic hockey competition. He will most likely retire after this NHL season is done. Now the torch will be passed to players like Filppula (25) and Mikko Koivu (27).
Slovakia, though, will have to wait another four years to try and win its first medal in Olympic men's hockey, but the players gave their country plenty to cheer for with their Cinderella run.
Unfortunately, players like Demitra, who finished the tournament with 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists), and Bruins forward Miroslav Satan, both 35, or Zigmund Palffy, 38, most likely won't be back in 2014.
Chara, 32, might have another tournament in him but he most likely will be playing on a team with a very different nucleus. This was a Slovakia core that had been together for three Olympic runs and, after finishing fifth in 2006, the team took another step toward a medal but fell just short. They may have to start from scratch now, much like the Finns. Slovakia upset Sweden in the quarterfinals but lost its last two games and unfortunately will go home with only the memory of a good run in the tournament.
Chara and Satan are expected to return to Boston on Sunday, but they most likely will take Monday off and be ready for Tuesday's tilt with Montreal.