OTTAWA – The Swedes were in no mood to let themselves become plucky Slovakia’s second upset victim in a row.
Mikael Backlund scored two goals as Sweden found an answer to Slovak goaltender Jaroslav Janus and scored four times in the final period of a 5-3 victory in the semifinals of the world junior championship on Saturday afternoon.
David Ullstrom, Simon Hjalmarsson and Oscar Moller also scored for Sweden, which advanced to the final for the second straight year.
“We knew what we were doing – we knew Slovakia is a good team,” said Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman. “They were up 2-1 before the last period, but we knew we were a stronger team than them and they had a tough game (Friday). It wasn’t necessary to be nervous.”
Marek Mertel scored in the first period and assisted on two goals by Tomas Tatar for Slovakia, which was coming off a shock 5-3 quarter-final win over the United States on Friday in which Janus made 44 saves. This time, he made 47 as Sweden outshot the Slovaks 51-30.
In the final on Monday, Sweden will meet the winner of a game later Saturday between Canada and Russia. The Swedes were beaten by Canada in last year’s final in the Czech Republic.
“I played in the final last year, but this is incredible with the fans here,” Backlund said of the announced crowd of 18,112 at Scotiabank Place.
Slovakia, whose only medal ever at the world juniors was a bronze in 1999, advances to the bronze medal game Monday against the Canada-Russia loser.
“We could have won this game, but in the third period, we stopped playing for five minutes and they scored four goals,” said Janus, the Erie Otters goalie who went unpicked in last June’s NHL draft. “It’s pretty sad, but we have another game and hopefully we’ll get a bronze medal.
“We played well, but when you lose, it’s still a bad feeling.”
The Slovaks nearly pulled off another upset as they went into the final period leading 2-1 despite being outshot by a wide margin and being outplayed by the Swedes.
And even as Sweden rattled off three straight goals in the third, the Slovaks pulled Janus with 4:30 left to play and Tatar got his second of the game at 15:58 to make it a one-goal game before Moller scored his first of the tournament into an empty net with 1:17 left to play.
“We were patient and worked hard the whole game,” said Backlund. “We saw them play the American team and we knew if they got the first goal they would be hard to beat and they were hard to beat.
“I thought `I don’t want to go home now. I want to play in the final.’ I was a little bit scared, so it feels good that we won the game.”
It wasn’t easy for Sweden, now 5-0 in the tournament, but Hedman said it was a good test after two days of rest going into the final.
“It’s better to have a tough game than to win 5-0,” he said. “We had to fight for every puck and every goal, so it was nice.”
The first period went just as Slovakia liked it.
They checked. Janus made the saves. They killed off a high-sticking double minor to Juraj Valach and a delay of game penalty to Janus, then struck on their first power play of the game as Mertel’s floating shot from the left point found its way through traffic to the top corner with only four seconds left in the period.
The Swedes came roaring out in the second, but Janus made a string of superb saves until Backlund finally tied the game at 10:19 as he broke in off the off-wing and put a wrist shot in off Valach’s leg.
But the Slovak power play struck again as Tatar walked off the right boards and roofed a shot inside the near post past Jacob Markstrom at 15:47 of the second frame.
The Swedes thought they had a buzzer-beater as Nichlas Torp’s point blast went in at the end of the period, but video review showed time had expired.
Backlund struck on a power play 7:04 into the third and Ullstrom broke through the crease, fell over Janus and poked the puck in while lying on the ice at 11:42.
Hjalmarsson added another before Tatar’s goal, but Moller sealed it with his empty-net effort.