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End of an era for Swedish hockey

Thursday, 02.25.2010 / 3:47 AM / All-Access Vancouver

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

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End of an era for Swedish hockey
VANCOUVER -- Sweden is golden no more.
 
The defending gold medal holders crashed out of a wild 2010 Olympic tournament with a stunning 4-3 upset at the hands of Slovakia in the final game of Wednesday's quarterfinal slate.
 
"I wish I could play the game again," Swedish goalie Henrik Lundqvist told NHL.com.
 
Perhaps in the do-over game, Sweden could play the style of hockey that has made it a world power.
 
In Turin, Sweden took Olympic gold because it had the best goalie at the top of his game and an air-tight defense anchored by all-world defenseman Nick Lidstrom.
 
On this night, Lundqvist was ordinary at best, stopping just 10 of the 14 shots he faced. Lidstrom -- and the whole defense -- struggled throughout the game. The Swedish captain was an attention-grabbing minus-2 on the night and was just a step slow in trying to cover the hard-charging Tomas Kopecky as he banged home a rebound for the eventual game-winning goal.
 
Slovakia was also deadly on the power play, converting on 2 of 5 power-play opportunities, exposing Sweden's uncharacteristic lack of discipline.
 
"They had a good power play," Lundqvist said. "They pretty much beat us the way we thought they could beat us -- on mistakes and turnovers. They come really fast and they are pretty skilled. We think we were the better team, but they kind of hurt us in their good areas."
 
Lidstrom said the game changed when Slovakia scored a pair of goals during a 37-second span in the middle of the second period, which turned a 0-0 game into an uphill battle. Suddenly, the Slovaks had a lead to defend and could sit back at the blue line and not allow Sweden's talented forwards to enter the attacking zone with speed.
 
"I thought we were pressing too much when we were down a goal or two," Lidstrom told NHL.com. "I thought we were opening ourselves up defensively, especially against a good team that is good at the counter-attack. They are very efficient in the neutral zone and then they have the quick forwards that can capitalize on the chances offensively."
 
Sweden is not normally a team that presses for offense. They are strong down the middle with three world-class centers, which means they can usually let the game come to them. But that was not the case on Wednesday.
 
Slovakia was willing to defend more cynically once it got the lead and was often found to have all five skaters behind the center red line when Sweden began to lug the puck out of its own end.
 
"They are pretty good when they get to back up and play five on their own blue line," Swedish center Peter Forsberg said. "They have great guys when they get turnovers. They have a couple of the quickest guys in the world, so you can say that they played us the way they wanted to play us. It's pretty hard when they are up; we have to go after them.
 
"They are not a bad team. They are a pretty good team, so we have to have some luck to beat them, but not today."
 
As a result, the golden era of Swedish hockey ends.
 
Four years from now, if professionals are still a part of the Olympic hockey tournament, Sweden will be without many of its most famous names. Lidstrom and Forsberg won't be back. It's also unlikely that we will see Daniel Alfredsson or Fredrik Modin.
"They pretty much beat us the way we thought they could beat us -- on mistakes and turnovers. They come really fast and they are pretty skilled. We think we were the better team, but they kind of hurt us in their good areas." -- Henrik Lundqvist

Lidstrom admitted it was a little bittersweet to think about playing in his final Olympic game, but he already was looking ahead to the new wave of Swedish super stars.
 
"I think this tournament, you saw a lot of young players that you are going to see in Swedish hockey for years to come," Lidstrom told NHL.com. Players like (center Nicklas) Backstrom, Tobias Enstrom on the point, the (Sedin) twins (Daniel and Henrik). You saw a lot of young kids that are coming up.
 
Lundqvist, just 28, will be the cagey veteran when the new generation comes of age. While he is looking forward to those days, he is still struggling to come to grips with the fact that his country's run at prolonging its golden era is finished.
 
"It's tough to realize it is over," Lundqvist told NHL.com, shaking his head wistfully. "We played pretty good. It just wasn't enough."