Sweden finally looked a defending gold-medal hockey team and advanced to the quarterfinals with a 3-0 win over Finland.
by Chipp Reid
It took Sweden two games to look like it had any interest in the hockey tournament at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
It took just one game for the Tre Kronor to act like defending gold medalists.
Sweden, in its third game in the Olympic tournament, turned on the jets and rode another solid goaltending effort to knock off Finland 3-0 in the final game on Feb. 21, a day the media dubbed “Super Sunday” because of the match-ups. The United States played Canada while Russia played the Czech Republic. All three games were re-matches of the last three gold medal games. Only Sweden had the same result.
The U.S. beat Canada 5-3 while Russia beat the Czechs 4-2. The U.S. and Canada played for the gold in 2002 while Russia and the Czechs met in 1998.
The Tre Kronor and the Finns locked horns in the gold medal game at Torino in 2006. Sweden won that contest 3-2 on a third-period goal by team captain Nicklas Lidström. The Swedes didn’t need that kind of heroics in its latest contest as their special teams finally found their groove.
Sweden completed a 3-0 first-round record by outclassing a team that had thumped Germany and Belarus by a combined 10-1.
Thriving on the powerplay and thwarting the listless Finns with their penalty killing, the Nordic showdown closed the big day with a whimper.
“Our special teams made a difference in the game,” Swedish coach Bengt-Åke Gustafsson said. “We scored two power play goals and killed off a lot of penalties and a couple of five-on-threes there.”
The Swedes set the tone from the start, peppering netminder Miikka Kiprusoff with 16 shots on goal in the first period. He stopped 15 of them.
The one that got away came during a two-man advantage for Sweden thanks to an interference penalty on Kimmo Timonen and a tripping violation by Joni Pitkanen as Eriksson jabbed in a cross from Nicklas Bäckström that grazed off Kiprusoff.
“We took two bad penalties in the beginning of the game and let them score the first goal which is always bad against the Swedes because they are a very good team when they have the lead,” said Finland coach Jukka Jalonen.
Sweden doubled its advantage after 4:19 of the second period when sloppy Finnish stick work turned the puck over and Daniel Sedin from behind the net found Bäckström, who flipped a shot over Kiprusoff’s left shoulder to make it 2-0.
Finland squandered a great chance to close the gap eight minutes later when they twice failed on two-man advantages.
The Finns found it hard to pull the trigger on shots and when they did, goalie Henrik Lundqvist turned them away.
Ericksson made it a three-goal lead soon after on another Swedish power play, stepping around Kiprusoff and trickling it into the corner of the net 18 minutes into the period after Johan Franzén deftly crossed to him from in close.
The Swedish defense and Finnish ineptness made for a quiet night for Lundqvist, who rejected all 20 shots on goal. Kiprusoff had 29 saves.
The dominance was a far cry from Sweden’s first two games. The Tre Kronor slogged through a pair of wins in its first two games – 2-0 over Germany and 4-2 over Belarus – but never looked like the team that won the gold medal four years ago. Only Lundqvist appeared happy to be on the ice as he shut out the Germans.
The game, Sweden’s Olympic opener, came following a 1-hour practice. Most of Sweden’s players arrived in Vancouver Feb. 16 for their first game the next day and they looked listless in allowing Germans chance after chance.
Sweden didn’t muster its first shot on goal against Germany until 10:54 of the first period when Loui Eriksson fired a slap shot at German goalie Thomas Greiss.
Sweden picked up the tempo in the second period and took the lead at 4:29 of the period when Mattias Öhlund redirected a shot from Mattias Weinhandl. Eiksson made it 2-0 at 14:13 of the scond when he again connected with Bäckström for a goal.
Lundqvist made it all stand up with a 21-save performance.
Sweden’s second game was against Belarus in a rematch of the 2002 Olympic nightmare loss for the Tre Kronor. Belarus knocked Sweden out of the 2002 tournament, a result many compare to the U.S. win over Russia in 1980. This time, Daniel Afredsson made sure there would be no upsets.
The Ottawa Senators captain scored twice and had an assist as Sweden beat Belarus 4-2. The Swedes looked sloppy at times against Belarus, even though they built a 3-0 lead on goals by Daniel Sedin, Alfredsson and Johan Franzén. Alfredsson also scored with 10 seconds left in regulation.
Jonas Gustavsson was in net for Sweden.
Sweden is off until Wednesday, Feb. 24, when it faces the winner of the Slovakia-Norway qualification game. The Swedes are the No. 2 seed in the quarterfinals. The Americans took the top seed with a better goals average.
Loui Eriksson banks in a shot off Finland goalie Miikka Kiprusoff to give Sweden a 1-0 lead Feb. 22 in its Olympic hockey match with Finland. Bildbyran photo/Joel Marklund