COLOGNE, GERMANY - MAY 20: Sweden's William Nylander #29 celebrates with Nicklas Backstrom #19 and teammates after scoring against Finland during semifinal round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Tre Kronor to battle Canada for gold
Sweden’s power play clicked twice in the second period en route to a 4-1 semi-final win over Finland. The Swedes will face Canada for gold on Sunday in Cologne.
It was a dominant performance for Sweden in this latest episode of the fabled Nordic rivalry on Saturday night. The underdog Finns worked hard, as they traditionally do, but were outsmarted and outskilled by their big-name opponents.
"This is what we came for," said Sweden's Victor Rask.
Sweden is now one win away from capturing its first IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship gold medal since 2013, when it famously ended the 27-year-old “home ice curse” in Stockholm with a 5-1 victory over Switzerland. Dating back to 1953, the Swedes have won nine golds at this tournament. Defeating Canada, the two-time defending champions, will be a big challenge.
"A final against Canada sounds good," said John Klingberg. "It's going to be a bit different than today. I think they will come a bit harder than Finland did. We've got a lot of NHL guys on our team and they've got a lot too so it's going to be like an NHL game on the big ice. It should be fun."
In goal, Finland’s Harri Sateri came to play, but the Vityaz Podolsk backstop couldn't win his duel with superstar Henrik Lundqvist. Shots on goal favoured Sweden 41-23.
"We put the puck to the net well, especially on the power play," said Brodin. "That was the difference. We stepped up. We didn't have a good PP earlier in the tournament, so it's nice to get some goals now when it's the most important."
The late addition of Lundqvist from the New York Rangers and Nicklas Backstrom from the Washington Capitals continues to pay off. Lundqvist, who led Tre Kronor to victory at the 2006 Turin Olympics, has won four straight starts and is hungry for his first IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship gold medal. The 35-year-old has silvers from 2003 and 2004 – the last two times Sweden played Canada in the final.
In front of 11,242 spectators, Alexander Edler, Klingberg, William Nylander, and Joakim Nordstrom scored for Sweden, and Backstrom added two assists.
Joonas Kemppainen had the lone goal for Finland. The disappointed Finns, who settled for silver last year with a 2-0 final loss to Canada, still have a chance to medal for the second consecutive year when they take on Russia for bronze.
"I don't think we played well enough to win," said Mikko Rantanen. "We know Sweden has a really good team and we needed to play our best. We didn't. The better team won."
"Russia has a lot of skill," said Sateri. "We have to be careful with them. It will be tough to do but we have to forget about this and regroup for tomorrow. We just have to be better than today."
Despite not blowing most of their opponents out of the water, the Swedes have gotten stronger and stronger since early group-stage losses to Russia (2-1 in OT) and the United States (4-3).
Sweden has scored first in every game so far. Edler maintained that trend when Backstrom won a faceoff in the Finnish end and the Vancouver Canucks defenceman blasted it inside Sateri’s left post for a 1-0 lead at 1:49. It was Edler’s second of the tournament, as he also tallied in the 3-1 quarter-final win over Switzerland.
The Finns quickly tied it up on an Edler turnover. He tried to backhand it out up the middle and Kemppainen jumped on it and wristed it past Lundqvist at 4:45.
Emotions ran high as scrums broke out around both goalies. When Backstrom and Nylander worked a neat give-and-go off a Finnish giveaway, Sateri stood his ground on Nylander’s backhander and surrendered no rebound. The Swedes outshot Finland 11-5 in the first.
At 4:36 of the second period, Sweden grabbed a 2-1 lead on the power play with Finnish assistant captain Valtteri Filppula off for tripping. Klingberg’s seeing-eye shot from the centre point whizzed high past Sateri. Battling to keep the game close, the Finnish netminder robbed Oscar Lindberg with his glove on a shot from the left faceoff circle.
With Jesse Puljujarvi in the box, the Backstrom-Nylander combo clicked at 14:52. The veteran centre found Nylander cruising in the slot, and he squeezed a high one home for a 3-1 lead. Sateri persevered during a late-period Swedish man advantage, stoning Nylander at the side of the net when he tried to finish off a tic-tac-toe passing play.
"Backstrom and Nylander have been really huge for us," said Rask. "They have been scoring big goals for us since being put together. Today was no different. It is great to watch them play out there, especially Backstrom when he is on the power play."
There was little hope of a third-period Finnish rally. Coach Lauri Marjamaki has a far less offensively stacked team than last year’s edition with Patrik Laine and Aleksander Barkov. The blue-and-white boys got just 20 goals in the preliminary round, compared to 29 in 2016.
In the first half of the third period, the biggest fireworks came when Anton Stralman laid out Rantanen at the Swedish blue line with a colossal bodycheck.
With 6:08 left, Nordstrom added some insurance with a short-side wrister to make it 4-1. The Finns pulled their goalie for the extra attacker with 2:07 left, but it was too little, too late.
"It's a big disappointment to be in the bronze medal game," said Rantanen. "But we want a medal, so we have to refresh tomorrow and have a good start."
Surprisingly, this was just the third time in history that Sweden and Finland have faced each other in the World Championship semi-finals since the IIHF inaugurated the playoff system in 1992. The Finns prevailed in the two-game format in 1999 in Norway, while Sweden blanked the Lions 3-0 in Stockholm in 2013.