QUEBEC – The no-name Swedes are starting to look familiar at the IIHF World Hockey Championships.
Mattias Weinhandl scored 3:15 into overtime Wednesday to give Sweden a 3-2 victory over the Czech Republic and a berth in the semifinals, where it will face Canada on Friday.
It is the eighth consecutive year Sweden will play in the semifinals, where it lost 4-1 to Canada last year in Moscow.
But this may be the sweetest of all, as the Swedes did it without most of their top NHL stars, such as Mats Sundin, Peter Forsberg, and a handful of the Detroit Red Wings now battling for the Stanley Cup like Nik Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom.
“It was a tough situation – a lot of guys said no thanks,” said Sundin’s Toronto Maple Leafs teammate Anton Stralman. “There’s nothing you can do about that.
“But it’s good to show everyone they were wrong. We have a good group of players who play back in Sweden, so it’s good to feel that confidence in the group and to show everyone what we can do out there.”
Sweden’s Patric Hornqvist and Czech Tomas Rolinek exchanged goals in the second period.
The Czechs took the lead when Radim Vrbata scored on a penalty shot after he was tripped on a breakaway by Jonas Frogren, but Marcus Nilson tied it on a disputed goal with 3:38 left in regulation time to force a 10-minute, 4-on-4 overtime period.
In overtime, a Swedish power play had just ended when Weinhandl shoved the puck into heavy traffic near the crease and saw it pinball off bodies and pads and slide into the net.
“It hit some skates and sticks and probably hit everything and just went in,” said Weinhandl, a former NHL forward now playing for Linkoping in Sweden. “It was a really lucky goal and that’s what we needed.”
The Czechs were not pleased that Nilson’s goal was allowed to stand after Rickard Wallin backed Holmstrom-style into goalie Milan Hnilicka and knocked him over. Hnilicka got back up but wasn’t set when Nilson scored.
“It doesn’t matter if it was good or not, it’s a goal,” said Czech coach Alois Hadamchik. “It’s too bad we couldn’t score again when we were leading 2-1 and let Sweden tie it up.”
Wallin’s plea was not guilty.
“That’s the way to score goals nowadays,” said the forward for the Farjestads club in Sweden. “We have to have someone going at the net.
“Obviously, he got a little distracted and maybe that’s why he let the puck through. But we talk a lot about going to the net and getting shots through.”
However they did it, the Swedes have gone farther than anyone could have predicted without their star shooters.
But they do have an ace goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, and the return from injury of veteran Kenny Jonsson was a big boost to their defence.
“We don’t have our best team, but maybe that’s in our favour because we don’t have the pressure with that,” added Weinhandl. “We can just play our game.”
Their game is a cautious, trapping strategy that looks to create turnovers. Coach Bengt Gustafsson admits it may not be fun to watch for the spectators, but it has worked so far.
“With the personnel we have, with the situation is the way it is, we have to play a tight game and not let the opponents have big chances,” said Gustafsson. “And we have to use our good offensive players when the time is there.
“We’re not going to change anything going into the semifinals.”
They will play Canada on its home turf, on the smaller NHL-size rink, before what is sure to be a hostile crowd at the Pepsi Colisee.
“To play Canada at home – it’s one of the biggest challenges you can have,” said Wallin. “We have, in my opinion, the best goaltender in the tournament and we have some big bodies on defence.
“So the key for us is to play good defence and hopefully take advantage of the opportunities we get.”