Sweden Shuts out Slovenia to Reach Semifinals
SOCHI -- Sweden advanced to the semifinals of the 2014 Sochi Olympics men's ice hockey tournament, as expected. The journey through the quarterfinal, against the upstarts from Slovenia, to the final four was more difficult than anticipated.
Sweden, the top seed after a perfect preliminary round, defeated Slovenia 5-0 on Wednesday at Bolshoy Ice Dome in the first quarterfinal. Sweden needed four third-period goals to pull away.
"This tournament, when it comes down to just one game, it's tough," Sweden goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "You need everything to work for you.
"Like today, they hang around for two periods and you never know if it can be a different game. You just need to play your best and have that little extra luck in these types of games by working hard.
"This was a game we had to win. We didn't expect to go easy and it didn't, until the end. Up until then, it was a big fight out there."
Sweden will face the winner of the Russia-Finland game played later Wednesday.
The Swedes parlayed being the top seed into the advantage they needed in the third period. One of four teams to move directly into the quarterfinals, Sweden held a short practice Tuesday and rested. Slovenia had to play a qualification-round game against Austria.
Slovenia won that game 4-0, but paid a hefty price for the effort. The Swedes blew open what had been a taut game for the first 41 minutes when Daniel Sedin and Loui Eriksson scored 6:22 apart in the third period, and Carl Hagelin added two goals in the latter half.
"Our team got really tired as the game went on, so it was hard to play," Slovenia forward Jan Mursak said. "The third period was a total disaster. I think the guys stopped playing while Sweden was just tighter all over the ice. There was nothing we could do."
The Swedish players said they were banking on the fundamentally sound Slovenians losing their work rate as the game progressed.
Hints of that appeared when Alexander Steen scored a power-play goal with 70 seconds left in the first period, but the intermission allowed Slovenia to regroup and hold steady despite being outshot 16-5 in the second. Slovenian goalie Robert Kristan, so good all tournament, was sensational in the period; he finished this game with 33 saves.
However, when Sedin scored 1:42 into the third period, the wheels fell off for Slovenia. Sweden, like any good medal contender, pounced.
"When we got that second goal, we knew they had played the night before and, usually, when you play the night before, you are going to have a strong start to the game, but if you don't get a goal you are going to feel the energy go away," Hagelin said. "After we scored that second goal, it felt like they didn't have much left. We did play a lot stronger and better on the puck in the third."
Eriksson, who assisted on Sedin's goal, scored to make it 3-0 at 8:04.
Making its Olympic hockey debut, Slovenia displayed a solidarity, work ethic and commitment to fundamentals throughout the tournament that kept it competitive in each game. The Slovenians played the United States and Russia tough in losses, defeated Slovakia in pool play, and handled Austria to book passage to the quarterfinals.
"It's definitely a disappointing feeling right now," said Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, Slovenia's only NHL player. "We felt that we could maybe surprise another team, but it didn't happen today.
"We're very proud of this team. We've had a [heck] of a tournament, and we've got to be very happy with the results."
Sweden is not happy yet. It has designs on more than a semifinal appearance; it wants to play for the gold medal. A dominant final 20 minutes Wednesday, combined with a competent first two periods, has put them in position to do so with a team capable of beating anybody.
Lundqvist, of the New York Rangers, has two shutouts in this tournament after making 19 saves Wednesday. The defense is experienced and mobile, and the power play is potent.
Sweden's winning goal Wednesday came on the power play. At the time it was scored, five of Sweden's six most-recent goals had been scored with the man-advantage. The Swedes have 14 goals here, six on the power play.
"We have a couple more notches, I think, where we can elevate our game a little bit," Steen said. "We'll look to do so in the semis."