Finland meets Sweden to decide Group C winner
Sunday, 02.21.2010 / 8:55 PM
Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior WriterSWEDEN (2-0-0-0, 6 pts) vs. FINLAND (2-0-0-0, 6 pts)
NOTE: records are presented as three-point wins (regulation time), two-point wins (OT or shootout), one-point losses (OT or shootout), zero-point losses (regulation time).
What to watch --
First place in Pool C and an automatic bye into the quarterfinals is on the line in the nightcap of what could be one of the greatest hockey days of all time. This one just happens to be a rematch of the 2006 gold medal game, too.
"For us this rivalry is bigger than Canada and U.S., and of course for the North Americans their rivalry is bigger," Henrik Zetterberg said. "So we are looking forward to this game and we know we've got our country behind us."
The goalies -- Sweden's Henrik Lundqvist and Finland's Miikka Kiprusoff -- are elite, so no advantage swing there. Sweden may have more recognizable names up front in Peter Forsberg, Zetterberg, Nicklas Backstrom, Johan Franzen, etc. However, the Finns boast some high-end talent, too, including two of the great Olympic players of all time in Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu.
Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall lead the Swede D, but it's not as if the Finland blue line can't keep up. Kimmo Timonen, Sami Salo and Joni Pitkanen can definitely hold their own.
This one should be fun.
The defending gold medalists haven't had it easy yet. Germany gave them a scare before losing, 2-0, and Belarus gave them all they could handle before a late Daniel Alfredsson goal sealed a 4-2 victory. Each time, though, Sweden was guilty of playing a bit too loosey-goosey in the second half of the game when they figured it wasn't in doubt.
That kind of play has frustrated coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, who complained after Friday's game that they didn't work hard enough in the second half of the game after playing a strong first period, by far their best 20 minutes of the tournament so far.
Gustafsson knows his team can't get away with some of its mistakes and lackadaisical play against the Finns, so we're pretty sure he sent a strong message in Saturday's practice.
The lines have stayed fairly static, but it'll be interesting to see if Gustafsson jolts things around. Some of the Swedish media is talking about moving Patric Hornqvist off the first line and replacing him with Johan Franzen. Henrik Zetterberg and Peter Forsberg seem to have developed some chemistry, but Hornqvist might not be the right fit there.
"They are a good defensive team," Daniel Sedin said. "They have good defensemen that can move the puck and their forwards are quick, too. We have to play solid defensively and try to get some chances. But I think defense is going to be the strong side for us."
It can be argued that the Finns have been the most consistent team in the tournament so far. Unlike the Canadians, Americans, Russians, Swedes and Czechs, they haven't gotten a scare yet. They beat Germany and Belarus by a combined score of 10-1.
"We don't think of that," Pitkanen said. "We just want to win (Sunday's) game and that is our focus now."
Except, those first two games matter. The Finns have found chemistry on all of their lines. The top trio of Koivu, Selanne and Jere Lehtinen hasn't even produced a goal yet, but the Finns still have 10. That's the same amount of goals as Canada, though the Canadians are listed as having 11 thanks to the shootout win. Finland has 80 shots on goal through two games, more the Swedes, Americans and Czechs. They've allowed only 36, which is second best behind the Americans' 26.
Even better, Finland's power play has been scary good. It scored four times against Belarus on Sunday and is 6-for-12 in the tournament. No other team has more than three power-play goals.
The Finns are also a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill, which is good on a number of levels. It means they are not taking penalties. Sweden, by the way, has only been shorthanded five times.
"We know how we have to play to be successful, and obviously our special teams have to be really good," Niklas Hagman said. "We rely on our good goalies. All four lines have to work hard. That's been the key to success in previous tournaments."
Total NHL players on rosters --
Sweden 19; Finland 18
Puck Drop --
"It helps when you go against Sweden that you are able to put the puck in the net," Finnish GM Jari Kurri said. "When you play against Sweden it's going to be a hell of a game. It's going to be a close game and I don't think you're going to see a lot of scoring."
NHL.com predicts --
Exactly what Kurri predicted for offense, and we'll say his team wins it, too. The Finns have been the most consistent team in this tournament and will be in this game as well.