Team Canada forward Sarah Vaillancourt celebrates the second of her two goals during second period qualifying round action against Finland at the Women\'s World Hockey Championships in Harbin, China on Wednesday, April 9, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
HARBIN, China - Canada secured a berth in the gold-medal game at the women's world hockey championship Wednesday and Finland hopes the Canadians can do the same for them.
Sarah Vaillancourt scored a pair of power-play goals and Hayley Wickenheiser had three assists to pace Canada to a 4-2 win over the Finns.
But Finland's 1-0 overtime upset of the Americans the previous day put them in position to play for gold for the first time at the world championships.
If the Canadians beat the U.S. on Thursday (TSN, Wednesday midnight ET), they get a rematch with Finland in Saturday's championship game (TSN, 7 a.m. ET).
"I've never been nervous about watching a Canada-U.S. game, but I will be tomorrow," Finland captain Emma Laaksonen said.
Katie Weatherston and Jayna Hefford each contributed a goal for Canada, while Kim St. Pierre stopped 10 of 12 shots for the win.
Laaksonen and Mari Pehkonen replied for Finland and goaltender Noora Raty turned away 30 of 34 shots.
The Americans have to beat Canada in order to join them in the final. The two countries have met in the last game of all 10 world championships.
So the stakes are higher for the U.S. than for Canada on Thursday, but the Canadians want to head into the final with momentum and show the Finns they are ready to play them again for gold if need be.
"There's always that huge competition against the U.S. and you never want to lose a game against them," Vaillancourt said. "If we could eliminate them from the final that would be awesome for us and really good for women's hockey."
Finland is an annoying, irritating team to play against as they clog up the middle lanes, have a knack for getting their sticks on shots and passes and excel at lifting an opposing player's stick to strip her of the puck.
"They're always in our faces," Vaillancourt said. "You think you have the puck and someone just comes out of nowhere."
The defending champions killed off three penalties in the opening period and their frustration over coming off the ice tied 1-1 with Finland showed in their body language.
"Quite frankly I wasn't pleased with the effort in the first period and we were all in agreement on that," Canadian head coach Peter Smith said. "We were standing around waiting for things to happen instead of making things happen.
"The players made the adjustments asked of them in the second period."
Special teams were the difference as Canada scored two power-play goals on five chances and killed off all six of Finland's chances a player up.
Vaillancourt's two power-play goals in a 38-second span starting at 11:23 of the second lifted the tension for the Canadians. They moved the puck with more speed and flow after that.
"We need to always move the puck quicker and shoot the puck and I'm probably the person who needs to shoot the puck in this team," Vaillancourt said. "I don't shoot enough.
"We're too generous with each other in making nice plays."
The 22-year-old from Sherbrooke, Que., won the Patty Kazmaier Award this year as the best hockey player in NCAA Division 1 women's hockey.
The Harvard sophomore finished fifth in NCAA scoring, but with Canada's national team she often looks to dish the puck to linemates Wickenheiser, Canada's all-time leading scorer, and big-goal scorer Cherie Piper.
"It's a really different game from the college game. I just keep adjusting to that," she said.
The game started a noon local time and a handful of Canadians were among the sparse crowd, although the announced attendance was said to be 983.
Hefford opened the scoring at 3:29 and Laaksonen replied on an odd-man rush off a Canadian turnover in the offensive zone at 13:49.
Vaillancourt and Weatherston gave Canada a healthy lead in the second period before Pehkonen halved the deficit with the long goal of the third.
Charline Labonte will start in net against the U.S.
St. Pierre faced her toughest test of the tournament so far when Finland had a two-man advantage late in the first period. A quick pad save on Nora Tallus prevented the Finns from going up a goal.
For the second day in a row, the Canadian team returned to their hotel to shower because the shower drains in their dressing room at Baqu Arena were backed up.
Vaillancourt said her throat was sore because of the smog that hangs over Harbin.
"I think we all felt it right away as soon as we got here, but it can't an excuse because everyone is feeling the same way," she said. "It's more the smoke sometimes that we smell in here."