Sweden Beats Finland in Semifinals at Sochi Olympics, Heads for Gold-Medal Game

Mark SchipperContributor IIIFebruary 21, 2014

Sweden defenseman Erik Karlsson reacts after scoring a goal against Finland during the second period of a men's semifinal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
Petr David Josek/Associated Press

Sweden directed acute pressure toward Finland's sturdy and disciplined defense without anything to show for it until two sparkling second-period goals set its course in this battle of the Baltic Sea at the Sochi Olympics.

Now, one-half of the gold-medal game has been slotted, with Sweden waiting for the winner of the United States versus Canada after handling Finland 2-1 in the first semifinal game.

The Swedes, dressed in their home golds with the blue triple crowns arrayed on the front of their sweaters, scored once at 9:21 of period No. 2 off a precision tic-tac-toe triangle pass that ended with Loui Eriksson sniping home a goal to tie the score at 1-1.

Just less than five minutes later, Erik Karlsson blasted an overpowering slap shot through what appeared to be a sealed gap between Finnish goalie Keri Lehtonen's right arm and hip to give Sweden the 2-1 margin. The ice in front of Lehtonen had been clear of skaters and he saw Karlsson's shot coming all the way, but the force of the blast was too much for him to contain.

Lehtonen was told he would be playing just several hours before the faceoff when Finland's superlative goalie Tuukka Rask came down with an undisclosed illness. It was a sharp blow to the Finns' chances, as Rask had been arguably the best goalie of the tournament and the biggest reason—along with Teemu Selanne—that Finland had come so far.

"It was selectively productive offense, just enough to get the job done, typical of these international tournaments," said Mike Milbury in NBC's postgame broadcast.

Finland's only goal at 13:43 of the second period had essentially been a fluke.

A Swedish defenseman had pinched down on a Finnish player in the neutral zone and made contact as the puck zipped by on a pass that went end to end and should have been icing. Because of the contact, the linesman negated the icing call, and Olli Jokinen skated hard for the Fins and collected the puck off the end boards.

Jokinen swept around to the short side of the net and at an exceptionally nasty angle, he fired the puck at Swedish goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The puck got caught up in Lundqvist's pads and slid beneath him across the goal line. The referee called up to the booth to make sure a whistle had not blown before the shot and determined it hadn't before awarding Finland the goal to make it 1-0.

Finland, wearing their dark blue road jerseys with the boxing lion patch sewn to the front, had needed power plays all day to get its momentum going, and did a good job of forcing them. The smaller of the Baltic nations forced five power plays, at least one in each period, but the decisive Swedish penalty kill kept Finland from converting even one into a goal.

Petr David Josek/Associated Press

The final shot count was 26-25 in favor of Finland, but the stat does not show you how much better and effective Sweden's shots on goal had been.

"Sweden does a lot of really good things, including killing penalties," said NBC Analyst Jeremy Roenick following the game. "They are so together; the chemistry is so good. Sweden was able to kill them off, and that was the key."

The Swedish team put a barrage on Finland from the opening faceoff to the final horn. The Swedes were relentless, forcing a parade of faceoffs in the Finnish zone and then dominating them. They came out especially fast and focused at the outset of each period, dominating the puck and keeping it in the Finnish zone for long stretches.

After scoring their second goal, the Swedes quickly tipped another shot that dinged off the Finnish crossbar before Daniel Sedin fired a short-side wrist shot that pinged off the outside of the post before sailing wide. 

Finland tried to fall back and spread across the big international ice sheet after scoring its first goal. The goal camera showed four Finns at times centering up in the neutral zone and at the blue line to try and swarm the Swedes and force them wide before shooting the puck in and chasing it.

Once Sweden got the lead, Finland was forced into an offensive mindset, and Lundqvist, as usual, was very difficult to beat. Selanne made massive efforts for his country behind the Swedish net, cycling the puck himself and feeding it out front for opportunities.

Finland generated two more potent scoring chances later in the game, but Lundqvist denied one with a deft blocker deflection and the second with a cat-quick pad save.

"We were one step behind the whole game," Selanne told NBC Sport's Pro Hockey Talk. "Maybe the Russia game took so much energy from us." 

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Sweden returns to the gold-medal game for the first time since the 2006 Torino Games. In their history, the Swedes have won two golds (1994 and 2006), two silvers (1928 and 1964) and four bronzes (1952, 1980, 1984 and 1988).

Olympic gold will have to wait another four years for Finland, one of the world's great hockey powers, and the great Selanne will finish his sixth and final Games without ever having the ultimate prize hung around his neck. The Fins have won two silvers (1988 and 2006) and three bronzes (1994, 1998 and 2010).