TORONTO – If championship teams are built from the back end out, Sweden’s in the driver’s seat at the 2016 World Cup. The Tre Kronor kept Team Russia off the scoreboard for 59:27 Sunday en route to a 2-1 victory and, against rival Finland Tuesday, continued their stifling of Group B with a 2-0 win.
This time, it was goaltending, not team defense, leading the way. Jacob Markstrom filled in admirably for superstar starter Henrik Lundqvist in Sweden’s first game but stepped aside for Game 2 of the round-robin with Lundqvist recovered from his illness. And ‘The King’ didn’t miss a beat. He stoned Finland’s Teuvo Teravainen at point-blank range halfway through the first period and was the best player on either team in that opening frame, in which the Finns held an 11-8 shots margin.
The Swedes woke up offensively in the second period, albeit they continued to rely on their star-studded D-corps to do the heavy lifting at both ends of the ice. It wasn’t Erik Karlsson, nor Victor Hedman, nor Oliver Ekman-Larsson pinching in this time to score. The underrated Anton Stralman joined the rush and found himself all alone in the slot to bury a perfect pass from Sweden captain Henrik Sedin. Sweden led 1-0 after two periods, in no small part because of Lundqvist, who made another massive save late in the period, flashing a big glove hand on a heavy one-timer by teen Finnish sensation Patrik Laine.
Finland made the necessary push for an equalizer in the third period, blitzing the Swedes with 13 shots, but Lundqvist came up with timely save after timely save, taking the mantle from Markstrom as Sweden held on tight for a second straight victory.
“When Marky was in the goal the first game, we played the same game," Karlsson said. "He’s a great goaltender as well. He proved that. He had a flawless game against Russia, and Hank had a flawless game today against Finland. We have great goaltending. We know that. And that’s the backbone of this team right now. It feels good to step out on the ice knowing that if you make a small mistake it’s not going to be the end of the world."
The Finns, who have medalled in best-on-best hockey between NHLers at four of five Olympics, now hang by a thread at the World Cup. Even at 0-2-0 they’re not mathematically eliminated from contention yet, as 1-1-0 North America could lose to Sweden Wednesday and the Finns could still beat 1-1-0 Russia Thursday, creating a tie between the bottom three teams of Group B. A three-way tie would be settled in the following order:
1. Total points
2. ROW (total regulation/OT wins, excluding shootout wins)
3. Regulation wins
4. Goal differential
5. Total goals for
The goal-starved Finnish are thus as close to finished as it gets.
“Of course, we have to respect the result," Finnish coach Lauri Marjamaki told reporters after the game. "We played such a great game, started off well, so many good scoring chances, but we didn’t score. Of course the goalie Lundqvist was impressive. But I'm so proud of my players and our team. I thought it was great today. But it is not enough."
The Swedes are in good shape at 2-0-0 but, because of their low-scoring victories, they could still miss the playoff rounds if they lose to North America and Russia beats Finland. Bookmark Loui Eriksson’s empty netter with 2.6 seconds left in Tuesday’s victory. It could end up mattering a lot.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin