The first game of the 2023 World Junior Championship quarterfinals featured Sweden against Finland, one of the tournament’s most intense rivalries. These two teams are no strangers to elimination games against one another, with Finland knocking out Sweden in 2021 before dispatching them to the bronze medal game in 2022.
Each team understood the stakes of the win-or-go-home match; however, the Swedes came out sluggish for the second consecutive game. After falling behind 1-0, outshot for the majority of the period, the team battled back and took a tie into the middle frame. Neither team lit the lamp in the second period before Finland grabbed another lead minutes into the third. Although they were down, the Swedes rallied with Leo Carlsson‘s second goal of the game before captain Victor Stjerborg netted a shorthanded game-winning goal with just 1:05 left.
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One of the tournament’s best goalies, Carl Lindbom, slammed the door shut in the dying seconds, holding off a 6-on-4 Finland attack to send his team to the final four. Here are today’s takeaways from another legendary game between the Scandinavian neighbors.
Leo Carlsson’s Star Shined Under the Bright Lights
Sweden won a bronze medal at the 2022 World Junior Championship this past August without Carlsson in their lineup. The future top-10 National Hockey League prospect in the 2023 Entry Draft has had a golden opportunity to grow his stock at this year’s tournament and has not disappointed.
With his team down 1-0 early in the first period, Carlsson tipped in a Ludvig Jansson shot from the point to tie the contest and collect his first tournament goal. Furthermore, the play looked effortless, as Carlsson just put his stick on the ice, and Jansson’s shot looked more like a tape-to-tape pass than a shot. As previously mentioned, Sweden had no business being in this spot since Finland dominated the period before one shot changed the trajectory of the contest.
Although Sweden got some chances as the game progressed, they fell behind again a few minutes into the third before Carlsson did the unimaginable. Parked by the side of the net, he buried home a rebound off a Filip Bystedt shot, tying the game with 3:27 left to play. People will argue he was in the right place at the right time and got lucky, while the hockey experts will point out that his hockey sense put him in those places. Furthermore, his two timely goals gave life to a team that had looked like they were on life support for the last few contests.
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Carlsson’s skills have been on full display for five games now, and although he had no goals headed into quarterfinal action, the future NHL star waited for the right opportunity to strike. Analysts will not stop talking about his potential, which Sweden needed today in a win-or-go-home situation. Easily the player of the game, his team can only hope that his offensive outburst is the beginning of something special in the final days of the tournament.
Sweden’s Penalty Killers Are Unsung Heroes
Sweden’s ability to kill penalties is one of the least talked about statistics (95% efficiency) of the 2023 tournament. Of course, their best penalty killer has been Lindbom, who has been a wall on the back end with a .942 save percentage. However, the forwards and defencemen who block shots and break up plays are the real heroes thus far in the tournament.
Their shorthanded units are the best at the event, killing off ten penalties in a row until the Canada game on New Year’s Eve, where they surrendered their first man-advantage goal. Considering that Canada walked away with a 5-1 win despite only scoring one power-play goal on five attempts speaks volumes about Sweden’s ability to kill off their mistakes.
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In their first game against Austria, Milton Oscarson potted the tournament’s first shorthanded goal, equalling the power-play unit’s offensive output. However, as Sweden progressed through the tournament, their man advantage numbers only worsened (two goals), with the penalty killers stealing the glory (two goals) with their performance. Sweden’s power play opportunities have yet to intimidate teams thus far. Still, opponents now know that when the Swedes take penalties, there are no cracks in their armor, and they are more of a threat in these situations.
Sweden Needs to Start Games With Intensity
Sweden had a pretty easy schedule to open up the 2023 tournament, destroying Austria 11-0, giving up just 13 shots in the process. Then, the Swedes found themselves in a dogfight against Germany, escaping with a 1-0 win before lucky bounces got them over Czechia 3-2 in overtime. Everyone knew they would eventually line up against the powerhouse of the division, Canada, who exploded for a 3-0 lead out of the gate before Sweden could get a few shots on goal.
Their slow start allowed Canada to impose their style of play, leaving many Swedish players scrambling for any maneuver to slow down the host team’s attack. Unfortunately, they could never recover from that rude awakening, resulting in a loss that dropped them in the standings and into a showdown with Finland.
In reality, the Swedes did the same thing in the quarterfinal, a trend that haunted them against Canada. Finland was eager at the start of the game, employing a forecheck that Sweden had no answer for, resulting in another goal deficit early (3:10) in an elimination game. Luckily, they managed to capitalize on just one of their two shots in the first period to tie the contest, despite trailing 9-2 in the category at the buzzer.
Related: Revisiting Sweden’s World Junior Championship History
Since the second period of the Germany game, Sweden has been outshot in every period, a streak that has reached double digits (ten) after three contests. Although shots don’t tell the entire story, their slow starts lately have set them up for failure, and if it weren’t for crucial goals, the boys would already be on their way back home. Now, Sweden will face the winner of the United States and Germany in the semi-final, and another slow start against either of those teams will most certainly lead to an unfavorable result for a squad that would love to defend a medal on home soil in 2024.