Sweden vs Finland: Star Performances and Turning Points in Olympic Hockey Clash

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Sweden vs Finland: Star Performances and Turning Points in Olympic Hockey Clash
Petr David Josek/Associated Press

The first of today's pair of mouthwatering Olympic hockey semifinal tilts featured a repeat of the gold-medal game of the 2006 Games in Turin, as neighboring powers Sweden and Finland battled for a spot in the title game in Sochi.

It was a game that could have ended up going either way but, as was the case in 2006, the Swedes emerged with a narrow one-goal victory over their most-hated rivals.

Both teams did a commendable job of limiting their opponents' quality scoring opportunities and, perhaps as a result, this clash had more than its fair share of penalties.

After another high-stakes installment in the ongoing battle for Scandinavian hockey supremacy, here's a look back at the most impressive performances and biggest turning points from the Swedes' win over Finland.

 

No Tuukka Rask

Against the supposed Russian juggernaut in the quarterfinals, the Finns relied on exceptional contributions from guys at every position, but there's no doubt the most important component of their victory was the play of Tuukka Rask

But after his 38-save outing against Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and company, Rask was unable to take the ice for Finland on Friday.

So, the Finns went with Dallas' Kari Lehtonen, who played well in Rask's absence, but one could argue that this game would've turned out differently had the Boston Bruins stopper been in net. 

Overall, Lehtonen turned away 23 of 25 shots, but it's safe to say he'd love to have at least the second of the two Swedish tallies back.

Petr David Josek/Associated Press

Lehtonen is a viable No. 1 in the NHL, but the way Rask was playing, it'd be tough to pick many goaltenders in the world over him. Finland obviously missed having him in the crease.

 

Erik Karlsson's clutch

It's not often a defenseman winds up leading a star-studded tournament like the Olympics in scoring but, as of now, it's a realistic possibility for Erik Karlsson.

One of the swiftest and smoothest skaters in the game, the Swedish rearguard has been dominant since the opening game of the round robin, and Karlsson was the difference for the Swedes in the semifinals.

Petr David Josek/Associated Press

In the second period, with the score knotted at 1-1, Karlsson found the back of the net from the high slot, and his marker stood as the winner.

As a former Norris winner and Ottawa's unquestioned best player, Karlsson figured to be a key player for Sweden in Sochi. But with eight points in five games, the 23-year-old has exceeded all expectations.

Though undersized by elite NHL standards, Karlsson's agility, speed and hockey sense more than compensate for his smaller frame and, on the big ice, he's got a lot more room to operate from the point.

Whichever North American team earns the right to play Sweden needs to study Karlsson's tendencies on the power play because he's exceptional at creating space for himself to unleash his deadly accurate one-timer from up high.

 

King Henrik Lundqvist

After leading the Swedes to gold in 2006, it may seem as if Henrik Lundqvist has little to prove as an elite goaltender.

That's simply not the case.

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

That's because despite his Vezina Trophy and continuous superb play with the New York Rangers, the longtime Swedish starter hasn't been able to get New York beyond the conference finals, though that can't possibly be pinned on him.

But once again, Lundqvist proved that he's as clutch as they come as he stopped 25 of 26 shots to backstop Sweden to another big win over Finland.

Predictably, he gave much of the credit to his teammates, according to Wayne Coffey of the New York Daily News.

Said Lundqvist, “It’s an amazing feeling, to get this opportunity. Overall, I think we played a really solid game. I think we played our best so far in this tournament.”

Sweden hasn't had much trouble getting past any team until now, and when the team needed him most, King Henrik delivered the goods.

 

Power Outage

The Swedes deserved to win this game, but by no means were the Finns without a number of great chances to tie things up.

Petr David Josek/Associated Press

In all, the Finns had a whopping 8:25 of time on the power play, including a lengthy two-man advantage in the first period.

But Teemu Selanne, Olli Jokinen, Mikael Granlund and the rest of the team's top offensive threats couldn't beat Lundqvist, which was a big factor behind why Sweden won.

To make matters worse, Karlsson's winner came on a Swedish man advantage, so this game hinged on special teams.
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