SOCHI, RUSSIA - Look and learn.
The Swedes watched closely how Finland took down the host Russians in their quarterfinal game and avoided getting cornered Friday, squeezing out a 2-1 semifinal victory and winning a chance to play for gold Sunday.
“We played close attention to the Russian-Finland game,” said Sweden’s Daniel Alfredsson. “I thought Finland played outstanding and got Russia to where they wanted. We have one big goal today and that was not to get caught in the neutral zone flat-footed and turning pucks over.
“I think we were able to do that by coming together with speed and getting the puck in deep. We got a lot of good forechecking going early and put them on their heels. It gave us confidence that we had throughout the game.”
With the Swedes plotting their way around the Finnish barbed wire at even strength, it was a power-play goal by Erik Karlsson that gave the Swedes the win, squeezing between the arm and body of Kari Lehtonen, subbing for a sick Tuukka Rask.
Now the Swedes have a shot at a pair of Olympic gold medals to go with the one they won in Turin in 2006.
“It feels really good, obviously, to be able to contribute with scoring goals and making the power play work. In short tournaments like this, that is something you’re going to need,” said Karlsson. “We got two chances today and scored one goal and it won us the game.”
After failing to score during a 95-second 5-on-3 advantage in the first, the Finns opened the scoring on a rare weak moment for Lundqvist when Finland’s Olli Jokinen won a race for a shoot-in and beat Henrik Lundqvist for a weak one along the goal line.
Finland had a great chance to take control of the game when Alfredsson was penalized shortly after, but the Finnish power play continued to fizzle.
“I thought we had enough chances. We had a lot of power plays, you know? Our power play didn’t work the way it should be working at this level. I think that was the difference,” said Jokinen. “I think we had enough chances 5-on-5, as well. It was exactly the game we thought it was going to be. A one-goal game, either way. We were confident we would be able to win today. They played well. They won 2-1 and they deserve the gold medal game.”
Jokinen said not having Rask, who was rumoured to have the flu, wasn’t a factor.
“You know what? We think that we have three really good goalies and any goalie could step in and play,” he said. “Lehtonen did a good job today. There’s nothing you can do. Tuukka gets sick and Lehtonen was good. He gave us a chance to win.”
Now the Swedes go for gold.
“Both teams have so much skill. It’s going to be our toughest test in this tournament,” said Lundqvist. “So, we have to be humble about the situation and realize who we are playing, but at the same time believe in ourselves and understand we can go for it and do this. It’s going to be a great challenge and I look forward to it.”
The Swedes have had their share of setbacks — they lost a top forward in Henrik Sedin before the tournament and captain Henrik Zetterberg had to withdraw with back trouble — but they’ve sucked it up and earned their shot at gold.
“It would mean a huge amount. A lot,” Alfredsson said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling being back in the final and playing for gold. Except for our setback with Zetterberg — I felt so sad for him — it’s been an unbelievable tournament. We’ve had a lot of fun. Now we have to regroup and make sure we play our best game on Sunday.”