Sweden advanced to the gold-medal game in men's hockey with a 2-1 victory over rival Finland in a hard-fought semifinal. It will play the winner of the United States and Canada in Sunday's final.
Finland opened the scoring early in the second period. The way Sweden responded immediately after the goal decided the game, as it was able to gain complete control and score twice over the next 10 minutes to get the lead, which it never relinquished.
Let's check out how the game played out in Sochi's Bolshoy Ice Dome. The scoring summary is followed by a complete recap of the first men's hockey semifinal at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
|Team||1st Period||2nd Period||3rd Period||Total|
Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask was a key factor in Finland advancing to the semifinals. Unfortunately for the Finns, they found out shortly before faceoff that he wasn't going to play due to illness. As the IIHF noted, it forced Kari Lehtonen to step in:
Tuukka Rask not dressed today due to illness. Kari Lehtonen in goal for Finland, Antti Niemi backup. #Sochi2014— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) February 21, 2014
Sweden tried to capitalize on the late goalie switch. It pushed forward aggressively inside the first three minutes and was able to generate some offensive pressure, but Lehtonen was up to the task. Once Finland survived that initial surge, the game leveled out.
Finland had a terrific chance to get on the board first with an extended five-on-three advantage midway through the first period. The Finns couldn't convert, thanks in part to some nice stops by Swedish netminder Henrik Lundqvist.
One thing that was noticeable throughout the opening period was the rivalry. There was a lot of physical play as the intensity of an Olympic semifinal was ramped up even further. Scott Burnside of ESPN passed along comments from Sweden's Niklas Kronwall about the rivalry.
"It goes way back, obviously," Kronwall said. "The two countries have always competed in everything; in sports in particular. I think it's hard for people outside to really understand what the rivalry is all about."
Finland broke the deadlock just over six minutes into the second period, courtesy of Olli Jokinen.
The veteran forward made a nice hustle play after icing had been waved off and then beat Lundqvist from a sharp angle to give Finland the 1-0 edge. Officials reviewed the play after some initial confusion, but they eventually ruled it a good goal.
Although the tally gave Finland the advantage, it seemed to energize a Sweden side that wasn't playing up to the standard it had set throughout the tournament. The Swedes started controlling play, and the pressure paid off five minutes later as they tied the game at one.
Loui Eriksson scored the equalizer following tremendous puck movement from his teammates. Nicklas Backstrom was working down low and found a wide-open Jonathan Ericsson in the slot. When the Finnish defense overcommitted, Ericsson slid a pass to Eriksson for the easy finish.
Sweden kept pressing and was able to grab its first lead of the game with less than four minutes left in the second period.
The Swedes moved the puck around the perimeter with Jokinen in the penalty box for tripping. Alexander Steen eventually found Erik Karlsson, who unleashed a wicked slap shot from the point. Lehtonen got a piece of the shot after it made its way through a crowd, but he couldn't keep it out.
Gregg Krupa of The Detroit News summed up the Sweden comeback after Finland got on the board first:
well, story here folks is jokinen opens scoring and swedes go bananas on offense. fire 8 of 10 next shots, get two goals. #Sochi2014— gregg krupa (@greggkrupa) February 21, 2014
Greg Beachum of the Associated Press gave us Teemu Salanne's reaction after their defeat:
Teemu Selanne: "We were one step behind the whole game. Maybe the Russia game took so much energy from us." pic.twitter.com/gVvtDZL3CN— Greg Beacham (@gregbeacham) February 21, 2014
With a one-goal lead heading into the final 20 minutes, the 2006 champions changed their approach and started playing a very defensive brand of hockey. They only generated three shots in the final period as they were more concerned about keeping the puck away from Finland and burning the clock.
It's a plan that is always second-guessed if the opponent ties the game, but Sweden did very well to slow the pace of play and keep Finland out of dangerous scoring areas. Even with a power play inside the final 10 minutes, the Finns had just eight shots in the period, and few were good scoring chances.
The result was a 2-1 win for Sweden and its third trip to the gold-medal game since 1994. It won each of the previous two.
It was a crushing loss for Finland. Pierre LeBrun of ESPN pointed out a clearly dejected 43-year-old Teemu Selanne after the final horn sounded:
Selanne bent over. You can see the agony on his face. Finns can't beat big brother Sweden once again— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) February 21, 2014
Looking ahead, the Swedes will play the winner of another rivalry clash in the championship game. It will either be the United States, a team with similar two-way capabilities to Sweden, or the offensively gifted Canadians led by the game's biggest star in Sidney Crosby.
Which nation will win men's hockey gold?
While either team will present a major challenge, Sweden can rest confidently knowing it's the only perfect team in the tournament so far. It won each of its group games without needing overtime or a shootout and has cruised past Slovenia and Finland in the knockout rounds.
That doesn't mean it will be the gold-medal favorite once the matchup is decided, but it illustrates how good the team has played despite little hype when compared to the Americans, Canadians and Russians.
Current Medal Count