Sweden vs. Finland: Line-by-Line Breakdown for 2014 Olympic Semifinal Game

Allan MitchellFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2014

Sweden vs. Finland: Line-by-Line Breakdown for 2014 Olympic Semifinal Game

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    Sweden is a strong gold-medal contender, with Finland arriving at the semifinals as the long shot. Their game Friday means both teams will be playing for glory this weekend; the only question left is the color of the medal.

    The Swedes may be the best team in the tournament from the blue line to the net, while Finland boasts a disciplined style married to underrated skill.

    Here's a line-by-line comparison between the two nations, plus a look at their respective pairings and goaltenders. Many fans believe this won't be close, but that's why they play the games.

First Line

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    LW Daniel Sedin, C Nicklas Backstrom, RW Loui Eriksson

    Sweden has juggled its top line throughout the tournament, but settled on this trio for Wednesday's 5-0 quarterfinal victory over Slovenia. Nicklas Backstrom is delivering quality minutes in place of injured Henrik Zetterberg. Daniel Sedin has been the most consistent forward on the team.

     

    LW Mikael Granlund, C Jarkko Immonen, RW Teemu Selanne

    Teemu Selanne enjoyed a strong game against Slovenia, impacting the result at both ends of the ice. The key to this line might be Minnesota's Mikael Granlund, an emerging talent with a wide range of skills. Jarkko Immonen is not well known to North American fans but is an effective player.

     

    Advantage: Sweden

    There's a slight edge for the Swedes here. Their top line has a strong two-way presence, and Loui Eriksson can be a game-breaker. Selanne looked 15 years younger Wednesday; that may be a factor.

Second Line

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    LW Alexander Steen, C Patrik Berglund, RW Daniel Alfredsson

    Alexander Steen is the trigger man for this line, as his 17 shots lead the club. Patrik Berglund is a quality player, and Daniel Alfredsson is Sweden's emotional leader. The Detroit Red Wing has four points in the Olympic tournament.

     

    LW Tuomo Ruutu, C Olli Jokinen, RW Jussi Jokinen

    This line is one of the strongest even-strength units in the Olympics. All three have outstanding offensive ability, but the trio have been difference-makers in all disciplines. This is the best Olli Jokinen has looked in years.

     

    Advantage: Finland

    Finland's second line has been more effective than Sweden's in the Olympics. As with the first line, there's a marginal difference between the two nations. 

Third Line

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    Bruce Bennett/Associated Press

    LW Gabriel Landeskog, C Marcus Johansson, RW Jakob Silfverberg

    Team Sweden has struggled to find a suitable trio on its third line. Jakob Silfverberg specifically has been in and out of the rotation (he is averaging only 7:10 a game during the Olympics). Carl Hagelin looks poised to move into his slot for the semifinal game. 

     

    LW Lauri Korpikoski, C Petri Kontiola, RW Juhamatti Aaltonen

    This line has been effective for the entire tournament. Lauri Korpikoski has a well-established reputation as a quality player, but Petri Kontiola and Juhamatti Aaltonen are less well known. This tournament may open some NHL eyes, and both could be on their way to North America in the future. Aaltonen's goal today against Russia was a big story.

     

    Advantage: Finland

    Lack of fame appears to be the only negative for this Finnish trio. They've played a smart Olympics and have impacted the game in all areas. 

Extra Forwards

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    LW Carl Hagelin, C Jimmie Ericsson, RW Gustav Nyquist, C Marcus Kruger

    The Swedish bench strength has been quality. Carl Hagelin has chipped in with a couple of goals, and Marcus Kruger is a solid two-way center. A small surprise has been the lack of playing time for Gustav Nyquist. 

     

    LW Leo Komarov, C Jori Lehtera, RW Antti Pihlstrom, RW Sakari Salminen

    Finland received outstanding work from its fourth line against Russia. The physical pounding dealt out by Leo Komarov earned him well-deserved recognition. As with all Finns, these players have worked diligently without the puck. 

     

    Edge: Sweden

    The skill of Sweden's depth players wins yet another close race.

First Pairing

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    LD Alex Edler, RD Erik Karlsson

    The heart of the Swedish team lies in the defense. Erik Karlsson leads the tournament in points by a defenseman. Alex Edler is supplying steady support play.

     

    LD Kimmo Timonen, RD Sami Vatanen

    This strong pairing has delivered in all areas. Sami Vatanen leads the Finnish defense in time on ice and points, while Kimmo Timonen has turned back the clock and provided reliable play. 

     

    Edge: Sweden

    The Swedish duo might be the best in the tournament. Finland's pairing is solid but falls shy of elite level. Karlsson might be the best player at the Sochi Olympics. 

     

Second Pairing

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    LD Jonathan Ericsson, RD Niklas Kronwall

    Sweden's second pairing is a quality duo with plenty of NHL experience. The Detroit Red Wings defenders have been physical and effective during the tournament. 

     

    LD Olli Maatta, RD Sami Salo

    Olli Maatta is a revelation at these Olympics. He's providing exceptional offense while filling a top-four defensive role effectively. Salo is playing steady minutes for the Finns.  

     

    Edge: Sweden

    The Swedish duo is less offensive but form an outstanding shutdown pairing. A small edge for the Swedes due to age and experience.

Depth Defensemen

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    LD Niklas Hjalmarsson, RD Johnny Oduya, LD Oliver Ekman-Larsson, LD Henrik Tallinder

    The exceptional depth of the Swedish defense is reflected in the names who are playing outside the top pairings at the Olympics. Oliver Ekman-Larsson isn't getting a lot of minutes, but he is contributing to the best power play at the Olympic Games. 

     

    LD Sami Lepisto, RD Juuso Hietanen, LD Ossi Vaananen, L Lasse Kukkonen

    Finland's defensive depth is solid but lacks the high-end quality of the Swedes'. The key is the button-down system played by the Finns. If they get a lead, the third pairing will have plenty of support.

     

    Edge: Sweden

    Sweden's depth on defense is outstanding. Ekman-Larsson is a heavy minutes player in the NHL and isn't getting a lot of work at the Olympics. There is tremendous depth for Sweden.

Goaltenders

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    Starter Henrik Lundqvist, Backup Jhonas Enroth

    Sweden is riding Henrik Lundqvist at the Olympics, and the results have been predictable. The veteran New York Ranger was a rock through the preliminary round and was stellar in his shutout effort Wednesday against the Slovenians.

     

    Starter Tuukka Rask, Backups Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi

    Finland's overall save percentage is subpar this tournament, but Tuukka Rask was outstanding in Wednesday's game against Russia. If Finland is to advance, goaltending will be a major story.

     

    Advantage: Finland

    Rask has been the better NHL goaltender this season, so the edge goes to Finland. The advantage is small and either goaltender could steal the game Friday.

     

     

Summary

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    Bruce Bennett/Associated Press

    Finland and Sweden are long-established rivals, and both teams badly want the gold medal.

    • First Line: Sweden
    • Second Line: Finland
    • Third Line: Finland
    • Depth Forwards: Sweden
    • First Pair: Sweden
    • Second Pair: Sweden
    • Depth Defensemen: Sweden
    • Goalies: Finland

    This is going to be closer than many people imagine. There are injuries and weaknesses for both teams, but it comes down to Sweden's defense versus Finland's brilliant teamwork.