* Finland beat cross-border rivals 7-2
* Finns will face U.S. in Monday’s semi-final (Adds details, quotes)
By Simon Jennings
GANGNEUNG, South Korea, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Finland strolled into the semi-finals of the Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament with an emphatic 7-2 victory over cross-border rivals Sweden at the Kwandong Hockey Centre on Saturday.
The Finns will play off against the United States on Monday for a place in the final. The U.S. beat Finland 3-1 in the group stages earlier in the tournament.
Sweden knocked Finland out at the quarter-final stage of the Sochi Olympics four years ago but there was never any hope of history repeating itself in South Korea.
Forward Petra Nieminen sparked things off for Finland in the first period when she bamboozled Swedish goaltender Sara Grahn with slick stick work before slotting home at the near post after Venla Hovi cut inside to lay on the assist.
Riikka Valila inadvertently doubled the lead with less than 12 minutes played when team mate Isa Rahunen’s fierce wrist shot ricocheted off her helmet and past the hapless Grahn.
“That was a new experience for me. It didn’t hurt at all.” Valila said of her well-directed header. “It feels great.”
Finland’s third goal came on the powerplay after Maria Lindh was penalised for tripping.
Noora Tulus and Linda Valimaki combined to set up Susanna Tapani, who faked right then jinked left before sending a clinical shot between Grahn’s pads to ripple the net.
Michelle Karvinen sent Finland 4-0 up with a shot from just inside the attacking area in the second period before the Swedes showed their first semblance of fight to pull one back.
Emma Nordin was fed on the wing by a combination of Erika Grahm and Annie Svedin and cut inside before letting fly to beat Finland goaltender Noora Raty at her near post.
Finland responded with a lightning-quick breakaway led by Michelle Karvinen and Tapani that ended in Valila tapping home from close range to restore the four-goal cushion.
The Swedes rallied again with a breakaway goal of their own scored by Rebecca Stenberg and assisted by Maja Nylen Persson in the dying seconds of the period.
Emma Nuutinen and Sanni Hakala scored a goal apiece in the final period to send the Finns cruising into the semi-finals.
“We met a good team today,” said a dejected Nordin. “We knew they are good. We’ve lost a lot of games this year against them.”
Sweden face Japan in a classification game on Sunday. (Reporting by Simon Jennings; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)