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Olympic Roundup: Canada earns bye, Sweden stays perfect and Japan shocks Sweden

Canada blanked South Korea in the final game of preliminary round action, while Sweden and its excellent defense stayed perfect with a win over Finland. The Swedish women, however, suffered a shocking defeat at the hands of Japan.

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CANADA BLANKS SOUTH KOREA IN FINAL PRELIMINARY ROUND GAME

While they didn’t control their own fate as it pertained to top spot in Group A, Canada skated into their final game of the group stage against South Korea with a chance to take care of business and potentially earn themselves a bye as fourth-place team in the preliminary round.

Though most expected the Canadians to run roughshod over the South Koreans, it took more than seven minutes for Canada to strike, with Christian Thomas finally getting the Canadians on the board. That one goal lead is all Canada would maintain until Eric O’Dell fired home his first of the tournament midway through the game. In the third, though, Canada stretched their lead thanks to a pair of goals from players who had yet to score in the competition. The first tally came courtesy of Maxim Lapierre roughly four minutes into the final frame, and after South Korea’s Sangwook Kim was penalized for holding the stick in the final minutes, Gilbert Brule knocked home a power play marker to give Canada a 4-0 lead. Goaltender Kevin Poulin stayed perfect through the final minutes to secure a shutout in his only game of preliminary round action.

Remarkably, the score could’ve been much more lopsided were it not for South Korean goaltender Matt Dalton. Already the star of South Korea’s Olympics thus far, Dalton stared down 49 shots from the Canadians and turned aside all but four. While his final save percentage for the tournament isn’t among the best, the Clinton, Ont., native allowed only 11 goals despite facing 116 shots in three games. No other netminder faced 100 shots, let alone nearly 120.

With the victory — and a regulation loss for Finland — Canada did indeed get the ever-important bye into the quarterfinals. Canada now awaits the winner of a qualification game between Finland and South Korea as they continue their pursuit of gold.

CZECHS BEAT SWISS TO CLINCH TOP SPOT IN GROUP A

The Czech Republic entered their final game of preliminary play with an opportunity to secure top spot in Group A, and after narrow victories over South Korea and Canada, the Czechs posted their most convincing victory of the tournament to finish the group stage with the second-highest point total of any team.

Despite the 4-1 scoreline, though, the contest wasn’t always in clear Czech control. After taking an early lead seven minutes in on a Michal Repik power play goal, the Czechs found themselves in a tie game when Switzerland’s Thomas Ruffenacht scored the equalizer nearly eight minutes later. The two teams remained deadlocked until early in the third when Dominik Kubalik beat Jonas Hiller to give the Czechs a 2-1 lead, and that’s how the score remained until the dying minutes of the contest when Roman Cerevenka and Repik doubled the Czech goal total with back-to-back empty net tallies. The victory gives Czech Republic a bye into the quarterfinal.

SWEDEN DOWNS FINLAND IN CRUCIAL GROUP B MATCHUP

Sweden had the tournament’s best defense through its opening games in Pyeongchang, but faced their toughest test in the final day of group action as they squared off against the rival Finns.

The clash between Finland and Sweden was as hotly contested as one would expect, too. Sweden took control first when Anton Lander scored with five minutes remaining in the first, but Finland answered less than two minutes into the second as Joonas Kemppainen became the first player to crack the Swedish defense. The score stayed 1-1 for the remainder of the second frame and into the early part of the third. However, with 11 minutes remaining, Sweden’s Patrik Zackrisson broke the tie when he stuffed a shot past Finland’s Mikko Koskinen. 

From there, the Swedish defense held, as did goaltender Viktor Fasth, who finish the game with 18 saves on 19 shots. In the final seconds, Sweden put the icing on the cake when Oscar Moller found the back of the net for an empty-net power play goal, winning Group C and locking up a bye to the quarterfinal for the Swedes. 

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HAGER THE HERO AS GERMANY GETS WIN OVER NORWAY

It was a basement battle between two winless teams, but neither Germany or Norway were willing to give in in an outing that required a shootout to decide who would finish third and who would finish dead-last in Group C.

For more than half the game, the score remained 0-0, but Norway’s penalty troubles finally caught up to them when a too many men infraction led to Patrick Hager solving Norwegian netminder Lars Haugen for the game’s first goal. With the way things had gone, it seemed as though the single tally could be enough to stand as the winner, but roughly five minutes into the third, Alexander Reichenberg scored to draw Norway level. Neither team could find the winner before regulation or overtime ended, which set up a shootout to decide the bottom half of the group.

In the shootout, Germany would get the better of Haugen, scoring on each of its first three attempts while German netminder Danny Aus Den Birken stonewalled the Norwegians. Hager, who scored to start the shootout, was credited with the game-winner that put Germany into third in the group and into a playoff qualification game against Switzerland.

 

WOMEN

JAPAN SHOCKS SWEDEN, SWITZERLAND DEFEATS KOREA

Heading into the Olympics, Japan was the eighth-seeded side in the IIHF’s world rankings. As such, most would have expected that the women’s tournament would conclude with a Japan-Korea contest that decided seventh place. Instead, Japan will be playing for a chance to finish fifth after a shocking upset of Sweden, the fifth-seeded team in the IIHF rankings.

In a nail-biter, Japan and Sweden fought to a 1-1 draw through 60 minutes on the strength of goals from Shiori Koike and Lisa Johansson. And despite Sweden having three consecutive power play attempts over the final two frames, Japan’s Nana Fujimoto refused to relinquish another goal. Fujimoto’s play was enough to get Japan into overtime where Ayaka Toko blasted one by Sweden’s Sara Grahn three minutes into the extra frame. 

The second win makes this the most successful Olympics in the history of Japan’s women’s hockey program, and they now have the opportunity to secure their highest finish in any major international tournament ever. Japan has never finish better than sixth in international competition, and even that finish came by way of being the host nation at the 1998 Olympics. The women’s tournament included only six teams. After 2014 Games, Japan finished seventh.

Finishing fifth, however, is going to require a victory over Switzerland, who shutout Korea 2-0 in the other classification round contest. The Swiss entered the tournament as the sixth-ranked team and won Group B, surrendering only two goals. That said, Switzerland was blown out 6-2 by the Olympic Athletes from Russia when the playoff round began and Japan only fell 3-1 to the Swiss in the group stage.

THREE STARS
1.
Nana Fujimoto (JPN): Stopped 28 of 29 as Japan shocked Sweden in overtime.
2. Patrik Zackrisson (SWE): Knocked home the game-winning goal to clinch Group C for Sweden.
3. So Jung Shin (KOR): Faced 53 shots, but only allowed two goals to give Korea a shot at the upset.

NEXT UP:
Sunday, Feb. 18

Finland vs. USA (W), 11:10 p.m. ET

Monday, Feb. 19
OAR vs. Canada (W), 7:10 a.m. ET
Slovakia vs. USA (M), 10:10 p.m. ET
Korea vs. Sweden (W), 11:10 p.m. ET