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Sweden doesn't mind being overlooked

Tuesday, 02.23.2010 / 10:45 PM / All-Access Vancouver

By John Dellapina - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Sweden doesn't mind being overlooked
VANCOUVER – As the first European-born captain to hoist the Stanley Cup in 2008, Nicklas Lidstrom admitted to feeling some satisfaction at exploding the absurd myth that such a thing never would happen.

And as his Detroit Red Wings teammates Niklas Kronwall and Tomas Holmstrom prove on a nightly basis, those silly old stereotypes about Swedes not liking the rough going also belong in history's waste bin.

But there is one generalization about him and his countrymen that Lidstrom is proud and happy to perpetuate: that they are an amicable and understated bunch that requires neither acclaim nor any fanfare.

That's why captain Lidstrom and the rest of the Tre Kronor are only too happy to enter Wednesday's quarterfinals the same way they entered the entire Olympic tournament: as the defending champs that so many have somehow managed to overlook.

"I think it fits us perfectly,"Lidstrom said, smiling as he came off the University of British Columbia ice after a light-hearted Team Sweden practice Tuesday. "We're kind of sitting in the weeds. And people are picking other teams and kind of not talking about us.

"I would pick Canada and Russia as well. You look at their lineups and the players they can put out there on the ice."

The truth is, nobody has a more accomplished, more experienced lineup or more depth of skill than Sweden, which merely won the gold medal the last time one was up for grabs. Still, the powerful Canadians and the explosive Russians were the odds-on gold medal favorites in the estimation of most.

As it turns out, Canada and Russia will have to play one another just for the chance to meet Sweden in the semifinals – provided Sweden can knock off Slovakia or Norway.

Judging by Tuesday's workout – which began with a 10-on-10 game of shinny with no line calls and ended with coach Bengt Gustafsson pairing with Johan Franzen to take on Daniel Alfredsson and Henrik Zetterburg in a game of center-circle keepaway – the Swedes are feeling good about themselves coming out of their 3-0-0-0 pool play.

They were further buoyed by the expected return of forward Patric Hornqvist, who participated in the full practice two days after getting knocked woozy by a hit from behind from Finland defenseman Joni Pitkanen.

The first round went just the way Sweden wanted: It got it a bye into the quarters, but didn't draw any undue attention. Pedestrian victories over lesser lights Germany (2-0) and Belarus (4-2) led to a rock-solid, 3-0 victory over rival Finland that enabled prognosticators to keep the focus on Russia, Canada and even the top seed coming out of pool play – Team USA.

"Yeah, people are still talking about them," Lidstrom said. "And it suits us perfectly."

Perfectly is how Henrik Lundqvist has played in goal for Sweden so far. He played against Germany and Finland and has yet to allow a goal. When last seen in this setting, of course, Lundqvist was making a sprawling save against Finland Olli Jokinen with 15 seconds left to preserve the Torino gold medal game.

Jokinen is now a New York Rangers teammate of Lundqvist's. So is Marian Gaborik of Slovakia, whom Lundqvist fully expected to see in Wednesday's quarterfinals – the Slovaks played Norway in the late qualifying game Tuesday night.

Lundqvist was both relieved and appropriately wary by the prospect of meeting up with Gaborik. Relieved because Gaborik appears healthy and ready to help him resume the playoff chase in New York next week after a collision between the two during a Feb. 9 Rangers practice left the 35-goal scorer with a deep laceration to his right thigh.

"I ran into him a couple of times in the village," Lundqvist said. "This is a thing that you don't get to experience too often. So I'm really happy that he’s playing and feeling good.  Things happen like that in practice. Just bad luck."

As for whether he has a mental book on Gaborik, Lundqvist said: "I know Gabby likes to come hard on the wing and stays up high a lot and waits for mistakes. And when he gets the puck he goes hard. The thing about him and Hoss (Marian Hossa) too is that they keep the puck in front of them so they can move it and shoot it at the same time. And that's something that makes you a little more difficult to read."

Presumably, there are few sites in Olympic hockey these days that can unsettle Lundqvist and his Swedish teammates. But Lundqvist insists that the mere threat of elimination does the trick for him.

"Yeah, we feel good," he said. "But you start to get a little nervous now. At least, I am. We should feel good, three good games. But at the same time, it could be over tomorrow."