The Slovaks benefited from a wide open affair in the game's opening five minutes, pinning the Swedes back on their heels and potting two past tournament netminding standout Johan Backlund before Team Sweden head coach Bengt Gustafsson abruptly adjusted the game's tempo. Normally you such adjustments during intermissions, but Gustafsson pulled his off seemingly between line changes. Almost instantly Sweden became the Sweden we know, reverting at times to four neutral zone clogging skaters defending their blueline and an unrivaled methodical offensive attack. Sweden had the tempo it wanted and never relinquished it thereafter, succeeding in suffocating the Slovaks’ swiftness while patiently executing its offense with their patented attack of three-man puck exchange down low and along the boards.
The Swedes are a patient bunch offensively. If they don’t have a play at the offensive blueline, they don’t mind playing dump and chase. If they take the puck in along the wall, they generally don’t try to force passes through the middle if the lanes aren’t there. Swedish wingers are patient enough to go wide along the wall, take the puck around the cage and try to make a play from back there. The Swedes create a great deal of scoring chances on plays from behind the net.
Nicklas Backstrom had his finest game of the tournament, engineering numerous superb scoring chances for his teammates. His passes tend to be of the hard, flat, and accurate variety, and he excels at drawing opposing defenders to him and then distributing the puck in opportunistic areas. He is also world-class creative with the puck around the net. Late in tonight's game the official scorer had credited him with a lone assist, but it seemed to us a certainty that''d he earn an additional one as well.
Slovakia possesses elite skill up front in this tournament, but those game-breakers turned out to be the team's Achilles’ heel in the third period, with both Marion Gaborik and Pavol Demitra taking senseless major penalties. Gaborik, with his team still within striking distance, took a 10-minute misconduct, and later Demitra earned a banishment for a dangerous boarding infraction.
On the power play, Slovakia deployed Zdeno Chara in front of the Swedish net, where of course the smallish Swedish defense was powerless to move him. But the move came at a sacrifice, as it removed the threat of his powerful blast from the point. His NHL employers have preferred that point presence, and we wondered if the World's wider ice surface made the Slovakian coaching staff feel that Chara's limited lateral agility and foot-speed was a liability.
The combination of some laziness on the part of Slovakians trying to break the puck out of their zone and some tenacity on the part of the Swedes on the forecheck created a lot of turnovers high in the Slovak zone on Wednesday.
Branko Radivojevic stepped up and had a strong game when the Swedes shut down Slovakia’s top line.
Team Sweden defensemen Anton Stralman and Johan Akerman were especially effective in their own end of the ice.
Not a single hat found its way to the ice when Team Sweden’s Tony Martensson completed the hat trick with an empty net strike in the waning seconds.