Hours after Team Canada vanquished Team Russia to earn a spot on the 2016 World Cup of Hockey final, Team Sweden and Team Europe hook up in a Sunday afternoon semifinal tilt to determine Canada's foe in the final. The best-of-three final begins here in Toronto on Tuesday.
Sweden went 2-0-1 in round robin play to come out on top of Group B, while Europe went 2-1 to finish as the runner-up to Canada in Group A.
Back on Sept. 14 at Verizon Center, Europe skated past Sweden by a 6-2 score in the final pre-tourney tune-up for both sides.
"First of all, we've got to be more focused than we were back then," says Team Sweden center Nicklas Backstrom, referring to that lopsided loss to Europe earlier this month. "And I thought we played our worst game there.
"We've got to be better all over the ice. I think they had five or six breakaways that game, and that's not good enough. It's going to be a good game. They're a good team. I think they've impressed a lot of people so far. It's going to be a great game."
After being outplayed and outskated by the upstart North America squad in each of its first two pre-tourney exhibitions, Europe appeared to be headed for a quick exit in the tournament itself. But Europe found its footing in the exhibition against the Swedes, using it as a springboard to surprise Team USA 3-0 in the first game of round robin play.
Europe downed the Czech Republic in overtime before falling to Canada in its round robin finale.
"We can definitely take courage from our [exhibition] game in Washington," says Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger. "I know them inside out, also, so many games against them, as do most of our players. It's a Euro-Euro battle, and we definitely feel confident going into it, but we know it'll be a stronger team than we saw in Washington for sure. But I believe we're a better team and more knowledgeable of what we're capable of and what we need to play than we were then, too, so it should be a good game."
Both teams have been idle since finishing round robin play on Wednesday. Sweden suffered a 4-3 overtime loss to North America in its last game, the only blemish on its tournament ledger.
"Overall, I think we have to be a little tighter than we were last game against North America," says Backstrom. "To have a better start, we need to be ready from the get-go. I feel like we are just not good enough to come out the way we did for the first seven or eight minutes. And that's not going to be good enough for the semifinals. We've got to be focused from the start, and especially playing at 1 o'clock, too. We've got to be ready.
As was the case in Canada's win over Russia on Saturday night, it's a one-game elimination format. If overtime is required, the two sides will play sudden death, five-on-five hockey until a winner is determined in that fashion. Round robin play was conducted as regular season NHL games are, with a five-minute, three-on-three overtime session followed by a shootout, if necessary.
"Over the years, you get to used to playing in these type of formats in the Olympics and World Championship," says Team Sweden goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. "There's not much room for error here. You just have to approach it like a Game 7. It's a little complicated, but you want to play a simple game because one penalty or one bad decision could be the difference in a tournament like this. You do whatever you can to prepare for it before the game, and you have your meetings and you have your practices."
Lundqvist scuffled a bit in the Sept. 14 exhibition in Washington, surrendering four goals on just 17 shots in 47 minutes of work before yielding the net to Jacob Markstom in the third period. Lundqvist missed the first round robin game (against Russia) because of illness a week ago today, but he came back to blank Finland before losing to North America on Wednesday.
"He has been great," says Backstrom of Lundqvist. "I've said it before; it's impressive to see him on a daily basis and to play with him. He is strong mentally, too. That's impressive, and he hates to lose. And I love that about him. I think it's great to see. Hopefully, he can just continue the way he has been."
Lundqvist has a 1.95 GAA and a .953 save pct. in his two tourney starts. Jaroslav Halak will oppose him for Team Europe. Halak has a 1.98 GAA and a .946 save pct. in the tournament.