Sweden Edges Finland, Gets Shot At Olympic Gold
Sweden scores final two goals of game to beat Finland 2-1.
SOCHI -- Sweden is short two of its three world-class players named Henrik, but one just might be enough to win them gold given the rest of the talent available.
New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 25 saves and the Swedes parlayed strong defense and the lone special-teams goal of the contest into a 2-1 victory Friday against archrival Finland in a 2014 Sochi Olympics semifinal to advance to the gold-medal game Sunday at Bolshoy Ice Dome.
The Swedes will face Canada or the United States, which plays in the second semifinal (Noon ET, NBCSN, CBC), and will have the chance to claim gold for the second time in three Olympics.
Finland will face the loser of the Canada-U.S. game Saturday in the bronze-medal game.
"We've been told that we're kind of up there but not really with Canada, Russia and the U.S.," Swedish forward Daniel Alfredsson said. "We got into this tournament and we've played pretty good but not great and everyone has looked for us to be better. [Friday] we came through with a huge game when we needed to and that's a great feeling. We definitely deserved to win [Friday] and we're going to enjoy this for a few hours and then we have one big test left. We want to make sure we go home with the gold and make Sunday's game our best yet."
The tournament began with Sweden short Vancouver Canucks center Henrik Sedin and Detroit Red Wings forward Johan Franzen. Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, who filled the same role on the Swedish team, was lost to injury during the preliminary round.
But this group, led by Lundqvist and Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, has reached the final. The Swedes haven't dominated at times but they also rarely have been threatened. Sweden has trailed twice in four games here for a total of six minutes, 45 seconds.
"I think [Friday] we played really, really well [defensively]," Karlsson said. "I think it won us the game [Friday]. We were really sound in the neutral zone and the defensive zone and took away their speed as much as we could. We really didn't give them any of the quality scoring chances that we've been giving up earlier in the tournament. Hank [Lundqvist] has been playing unbelievable for us as well. In that part we feel pretty confident."
It was the 76th time Sweden and Finland have played in the IIHF World Championships or the Olympics; Sweden now holds a 44-17-15 edge and has won the past three meetings in the Olympics, including victories in the preliminary round four years ago in Vancouver and in the gold-medal game eight years ago in Turin.
Finland won the last important meeting between the teams, a 6-1 victory at the 2011 IIHF World Championship. The Finns also have been the most consistent country in the Olympics since the NHL started sending players in 1998. They've won a medal three times in the four Olympics played with NHL players and could make it a fourth Saturday. However, that haul does not include a gold medal.
"Obviously it has been a great tournament and I'm very proud of our team," Finland captain Teemu Selanne said. "It is obviously disappointing to lose this game but [Saturday] still is a lot to win. A bronze medal would be an unbelievable thing so that is our goal now even though it is very disappointing right now."
Finland had four of the first five power plays Friday but could not convert, including a 5-on-3 for 1:35 in the first period.
"Little things," Finland coach Erkka Westerlund said with a sigh. "For example [Friday] we had chances to win this game but we also had difficult periods."
Sweden got a second man-advantage late in the second period and cashed in for the lead.
Karlsson ripped a shot from the top of the offensive zone that ticked off goaltender Kari Lehtonen's right arm and under the crossbar. It was Karlsson's fourth goal of the tournament. He also has eight points, which tied him with Phil Kessel of the United States for the lead.
"I think he's really enjoying himself playing in the Olympics with great players," Alfredsson said. "It seems like he can blossom even more when he's surrounded by Sedin and [Nicklas] Backstrom and [Alexander] Steen. They make him look even better I think. It is amazing to me that he is 23 years old and playing as mature as he is. Everybody talks about him with making mistakes here and there, but it was an Olympic semifinal and I think he played outstanding. Smart, was in the right position most of the time, joined the rush when he needed. But I was really impressed with his game."
"He's the best D-man-slash-forward in the world," Patrik Berglund said. "We're happy to have him. It's hard sometime when you're practicing and you count four forwards all the time. You wonder where your guy is. But so far so good."
Winnipeg Jets forward Olli Jokinen opened the scoring for Finland with his second goal of the tournament, at 6:17 of the second period. Anaheim Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen sent the puck out of his zone and into the left corner in Sweden's end but a linesman waved off icing.
Jokinen won the race to the puck and snapped a shot that leaked through Lundqvist and across the goal line. The goal initially was waved off, but after a video review the goal stood and Finland had a 1-0 lead.
The Finns controlled more of the play after the goal but Loui Eriksson tied the game less than five minutes later. Backstrom sent a pass from beyond the goal line to Jonathan Ericsson, who fed Eriksson at the far side of the net for his second goal of the tournament at 11:39.
Lehtonen was a surprise starter for this game. The Dallas Stars netminder had to step in because Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask was ruled out with an illness. Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks dressed as the backup.
When Finland plays for bronze Saturday it will mark the end of an era. Selanne, the best player in the country's history, will skate in his final Olympic game in a Suomi jersey.
"I have a nice trophy case at home," Selanne said. "Three medals from Olympics. It would be nice to have four."