After multiple blowouts at the 2021 World Junior Championships, hockey fans finally got a chance to witness a thrilling game on Wednesday night. The Russians beat Sweden 4-3 in overtime to take first place in Group B.
Russia’s Egor Afanasyev scored the first goal before Arvid Costmar tied the game for Sweden in the first period. Rodion Amirov would get the lead back for Russia before the end of the first. Alex Holtz tied the game once again in the second before Kirill Kirasanov and Noel Gunler exchanged goals in the third period to send the game to OT. Marat Khusnutdinov scored the game-winner with six seconds remaining in overtime on the power play.
Sweden’s Winning Streak Ends
Sweden’s overtime loss to Russia ended their 54-game winning streak in the preliminary round at the WJC. Sweden had not lost a game in the preliminary round since 2006. Although the winning streak is impressive, it has not led to success at the WJC.
Sweden had dominated in the preliminary round but have only won gold once, in 2012. Outside of winning the lone gold medal, Sweden won silver five times and bronze twice. Maybe the streak ending changes the luck for the country at the WJC, and they can secure their third gold medal at the tournament.
Sweden’s Power Play Struggled
Sweden’s loss to Russia comes down to special teams. Despite their numerous scoring chances, their power play struggled to convert. Sweden had five power-play opportunities and didn’t score a single goal with the man advantage.
The power play had performed well in the previous games. Against the Czech Republic, they were 3-for-6, and against Austria, they were 2-for-4. One of Sweden’s biggest weapons heading into their matchup against Russia struggled to pull through for the team in an important game.
Tough Night for the Penalty Kill
The Swedes’ struggles extended to their penalty kill as well. Russia drew four penalties during the game, and they converted on three of them. After Afanasyev’s opening goal, Russia made Sweden pay on the power play for their next three goals.
The penalty that crushed the Swedes came in overtime. Costmar went to the box for two minutes for holding with 25 seconds left. 20 seconds later, Khusnutdinov scored the game-winner and ended Sweden’s 54-game winning streak.
Alexander Holtz Scores
Holtz has had scoring opportunities at the 2021 WJC but had not scored in the first two games. Holtz registered his first goal of this year’s tournament in the second period against Russia. The New Jersey Devils’ 2020 first-round pick now has 20 shots on goal in three games.
Holtz, along with Lucas Raymond, are the top players for Sweden and are expected to lead them to gold. Sweden didn’t play an exhibition game due to an extended quarantine, so it has taken their top players some time to produce. After three games, their top players are starting to produce.
Sweden’s Depth Showed
Aside from Holtz’s goal, Sweden had help from their depth players. Gunler’s fourth goal extended his team lead at WJC to tie the game up in the last minute of regulation. Costmar, who was Sweden’s best player against Russia, tied the game for his team. Costmar and Gunler play on the second line, behind the Terror Twins line.
Costmar has taken full advantage of his opportunity to play for Sweden. With multiple players unable to play for their country this year due to Covid-19, Costmar earned his chance at the centre. The Canucks’ seventh-round pick was fully involved on Wednesday night, with his goal and four shots on net.
As for Gunler, he continues to prove to be one of the best snipers playing for Sweden this year. Gunler has scored a goal in all three games for Sweden.
Sweden Takes on USA Next
Sweden won’t have much time for rest before their matchup against Team USA, as they play Thursday night. The matchup between Sweden and the USA is important as it will decide the first-place team in Group B.
Sweden will likely start Hugo Alnefelt after giving Jesper Wallstedt his first start of the tournament on Wednesday. Alnefelt is 2-0 at the 2021 WJC, with a .50 GAA and a .968 save percentage and will look to lead his team to a first-place finish.
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Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.