For the first time in eight years, Team Sweden has a chance to medal in the Olympics.
The road to gold, though, is still a very long one.
Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Team Canada cemented the Swedes’ chances of playing for their first medal since taking silver in the 2014 Sochi games, and are guaranteed at least a chance at taking the bronze. Before any of that can happen, however, the Swedes have a date with the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC). The winner will go on to play either Finland or Slovakia — both fellow Group C members in the preliminary tournament — for gold.
Here’s what we learned after Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Team Canada.
Sweden Capitalized on a Late-Game Mistake
The game was incredibly even between both teams, though Sweden did finish with a slight edge in shots on goal (26-22). Both were also whistled for three penalties each, but neither club’s power play was up to the task.
The goalies, however, were a much different story.
Team Sweden’s Lars Johansson stopped every shot he faced en route to his first shutout of the tournament, but Canada goalie Matt Tomkins was almost equally as brilliant. Despite the Canadians’ trouble in this year’s Olympic games, Tomkins was a true bright spot, posting a 96.25 save percents (SV%) and 1.01 goals-against average (GAA) in 178 total minutes played.
Unfortunately for him, he received literally no goal support in Wednesday’s quarterfinal game.
The Swedes, meanwhile, capitalized on a crucial turnover by Team Canada, and it was none other than forward Lucas Wallmark who made them pay. Midway through the third period, with the score tied at 0, Canadian forward Jack McBain turned the puck over in his own zone, and Wallmark collected, fired it towards the net, right past Tomkins after a fortuitous bounce off defenseman Mat Robinson.
Forward Anton Lander put the game out of reach with an empty net goal, and punched Sweden’s ticket into the semi-finals on Friday.
Wallmark has had an Olympics to remember, as he has five points, all goals, in four games this tournament. The 26-year-old Swedish center, who has 187 games of NHL experience to his name with the Chicago Blackhawks, Florida Panthers, and Carolina Hurricanes, leads all players in the Olympics with his goal total, and Team Sweden will certainly look for more of that against ROC on Friday.
Johansson Stands Tall in Goal
Johansson started Sweden’s first game of the tournament — a narrow 3-2 win over Latvia — but then took a back seat as fellow netminder Magnus Hellberg led the Swedes to a 4-1 win over Slovakia, and a 4-3 overtime loss to Finland. Hellberg seemed to have the edge, but Johansson got the nod on Wednesday, and made the most of his opportunity.
Team Canada was unable to solve him even once, ensuring Wallmark’s goal was enough to claim the win. Johansson, meanwihle, has turned some heads at the games, and now has accumulated a 94.87 SV% and 1.00 GAA in two Olympic games. Though nothing is set in stone, it’s a good bet that he’ll get his second straight start on Friday against ROC.
The 34-year-old goalie has allowed two goals in 39 shots to this point, and will see a number of familiar faces against ROC, considering he currently plays for SKA St. Petersburg in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. In order for the Swedes to have a chance to play for gold, he’ll need to be just as brilliant as he was on Wednesday.
ROC Looms Large
Favored by many to win gold before the Olympic games began, ROC has not disappointed, and Team Sweden has its work cut out for it. ROC is 3-1 in this tournament, including a 3-1 win over Denmark in Friday’s quarterfinals, and have posted two shutouts on top of it.
On paper, it’s a relatively even matchup. ROC has scored 11 goals compared to Sweden’s 12, though its power-play percentage of 14.29 is just ninth-best in the Olympics to this point. Its penalty kill, meanwhile, ranks last, as the Russians have allowed five power-play goals in 13 chances. In order for the Swedes to advance, they’ll need to exploit the opposition’s special teams.
The Russians are led by forward Nikita Gusev with five points, all assists, while defenseman Nikia Nesterov leads with two goals. Goalie Ivan Fedotov has posted a 9.52 SV% and 1.72 GAA in all four games this tournament.
For one day, though, Team Sweden can enjoy its win over the Canadians, and then regroup for their chance against the Russians in the semi-finals. With just one more win, the Swedes will have their first opportunity to win an Olympic gold medal since the 2006 Torino games.
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.