Sweden is the only team other than the United States or Canada to have reached an Olympic gold medal game, beating the Americans in the 2006 semifinal and earning a silver. But the Swedes have struggled lately, falling into the second-tier Group B that will have to compete for two spots in the quarterfinals.
Japan scored its first Olympic goal in 16 years on Tuesday, a huge deal for the country, but it was a disallowed goal in a 2-1 loss to Russia that will be stealing the headlines.
The Japanese played well in keeping the proceedings close with the Russians, and it took Alexandra Vafina's short-handed goal with 8:24 remaining in the third period to give the hosts the win. Tatyana Burina also scored for the Russians, while Ayaka Toko's goal just 33 seconds into the third period was the team's first goal since a 6-1 loss to China on Feb. 11, 1998, in Nagano, according to Lucas Aykroyd of Sochi2014.com.
And the team still hasn't won a game in the Olympics to this point.
Yes, Mighty Ducks fans, that's about as close to a knuckle puck as you'll ever see.
For the second straight game, the Japanese came close to earning a surprise win, and this contest should have potentially gone to overtime. With two minutes remaining in the second period, Rui Ukita's backhand appeared to slip behind Russian goalie Anna Prugova and trickled past the goal line. But Prugova fell over the puck, and the officials did not see the puck go past the line and failed to request a replay.
Television footage showed that the puck indeed did go past the line and the Japanese team was robbed a goal.
Still, the Russians were the brighter team for much of the game, outshooting the Japanese 38-22. And Japan will take some consolation from their first two matches, as they have yet to win but have lost by the meager margin of 3-1.
They'll certainly stand a very good chance to get their first ever Olympic win against Germany on Thursday.
Meanwhile, there are big expectations for this Russian side, as they attempt to bridge the gap between themselves and the favorites—the United States and Canada. In the interim, they may show that women's hockey continues to be a valued competition in the Winter Olympics, as Russian general manager and former NHL player Alexei Yashin told Roy MacGregor of The Globe and Mail:
“I think our team is getting stronger, and Team Finland is very strong, too. It’s tough to compete against Canadians and United States – but if you have the time and the right direction, some day we can catch up.”
Yashin says he has become a devotee of the women’s game, adding the IOC is wrong to think there is not enough competition in the sport to warrant continuing interest.
“They say they don’t want to continue with women’s hockey because it’s not very exciting,” he said. “But I think it was exciting hockey in Ottawa. You can see 16,000 people at the [gold-medal] game, and some NHL teams cannot get attendance like that. To me, it was very exciting.
“It just takes some time.”
In the other contest, Sweden easily dispatched of Germany, winning 4-0. Emma Nordin's goal in the game's first minute was the difference until the third period, when the Swedes exploded offensively, with Cecilia Osterberg, Johanna Olofsson and Pernilla Winberg all finding the back of the net to put the Germans away.
Goalie Kim Martin Hasson was perfect, turning away 21 German shots.
That sets up a very interesting matchup between Russia and Sweden, as both teams are perfect thus far. Here are the current standings for both groups.
|Team||W||L||W (OT)||L (OT)||G||P|
|Team||W||L||W (OT)||L (OT)||G||P|
The winner of Russia versus Sweden will face the loser of Switzerland versus Finland, while the loser of the former matchup will face the winner of the latter contest. The convincing win against Germany was an important one, as the normally solid Swedes have struggled of late:
The Canadian Press offers some further analysis to that point:
Beating Russia would be a huge indication that the Swedes are back on the right track.