Answers come too late

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:02 AM ET

INNSBRUCK -- Except for a couple of well-justified shots at the officiating, Team Canada made no excuses last night.

Why bother? The players knew as well as anyone that, on this occasion, Sweden was the better team and deserving of the 5-4 victory at the world hockey championship.

The win put Sweden, with six points in Group F, in strong position to win the qualification-round pool and get an advantageous opponent in next week's quarter-finals.

And Canada, in second place with four points, faces a second game in less than 24 hours when it meets Finland today (10:15 a.m., EDT, TSN).

After allowing Canada to have its way in the early going, Sweden assumed command of play in the neutral zone and, as a result, the powerful Canuck offence couldn't spend enough time within range of goalie Henrik Lundqvist to do much damage.

Furthermore, as the game progressed, Canada made more and more mistakes and the Swedes capitalized on them. For the most part, they weren't major mistakes. But as coaches say so often, it's the little things that win hockey games.

If you do the little things right, you should be able to nurse a two-goal lead. But Canada led 2-0 and 3-1 and neither was anywhere near enough.

Joe Thornton opened the scoring, fighting off Sanny Lindstrom to beat Lundqvist while Rick Nash was creating havoc on the edge of the crease. Then Dany Heatley scored his first of the tournament -- on a nice set-up by Shane Doan -- and after Daniel Sedin put the Swedes on the board, Doan made it 3-1.

But after that, it was all downhill for Canada.

Sammy Pahlsson scored with the teams playing four on four; Mikael Samuelsson tied the game; and just before the second period ended, and Henrik Zetterberg pounced on a rebound to put the Swedes up 4-3.

Canada came out for the third period in a bad mood and Nash lifted the Canadian hopes by finishing off a beautiful passing play that involved every Canadian skater on the ice.

But at 13:47, former Maple Leafs defenceman Kenny Jonsson scored the goal that proved to be the winner.

There was no shortage of explanations from the Canadians on the subject of what went wrong.

"We kind of backed off and had a lot of turnovers in the danger zones at both ends of the blue lines where you don't want to turn the puck over," Nash said. "And we didn't have as good a forecheck as we could."

"We maybe got a little spread out in the neutral zone," Doan suggested. "Because there's so much ice, you sometimes spread yourself out a little too much. You've got to get used to that. They took advantage of it, offensively."

That was certainly a problem. The Canadians had been a cohesive unit in the first period and had roamed into the Swedish zone at will.

But the Swedish Elite League, where most of these guys play, is notorious for its picks and its interference, and in the second period last night, the Swedes used both ploys effectively.

"We were trying to battle through it," forward Kris Draper said. "Give the Swedes credit. They had a game plan and they played it well."

Captain Ryan Smyth, however, has been through enough world championships to know that a loss of this nature is not the end of the world. It's a learning experience.

"You don't go through a tournament hands free and win them all," he said. "You'd like to. You'd strive to. But a game like this is better now than a little bit later."


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