By Corey Masisak | NHL.com
SOCHI -- Switzerland's impenetrable wall was felled by a feather.
After the Swiss went more than 112 minutes without allowing a goal in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Sweden forward Daniel Alfredsson scored with 7:21 remaining in the third period Friday to defeat Switzerland 1-0 and clinch Group C.
"We played a team that is very feisty and very disciplined. They skate really well," Alfredsson said. "It is different from what we're used to playing. I think that kind of put us on our heels. They played really well to start the game. If not for [goalie Henrik] Lundqvist we could have been in the hole one or two. Those saves allowed us to get our feet under us, and I thought as the game went on we got smarter with the puck and didn't allow for their counterattacks to be that effective.
"It was a close game all the way through. We got a good bounce on my goal and that's the difference."
Sweden struggled to find a way to generate great offensive chances early in this game, but Switzerland goalie Reto Berra gifted them one late that Alfredsson converted. Berra mishandled defenseman Erik Karlsson’s soft shot from near the right wall and Alfredsson was at the edge of the crease to pounce on the rebound.
"It was a bad goal, that is for sure," Berra said. "Also a little bit my fault. I don't know, it wasn't that hard a shot. It went a little bit under my arm or something. I didn't see the rebound laying there and the Swedish guy was right there and I was late."
Lundqvist made 26 saves for the Swedes, who have clinched the top spot in Group C with victories against Switzerland and the Czech Republic. If Sweden were to lose in regulation Saturday against Latvia, a regulation winner in the Switzerland-Czech Republic game Saturday would tie the Swedes at six points, but the first tiebreaker for determining group position is head-to-head results. The tiebreakers for determining seeding beyond group play are: 1) position in the team's group 2) points 3) goal differential 4) total goals-for and 5) IIHF ranking.
Sweden already was short Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen for the tournament because of injury, but it was dealt another big blow before the game Friday. Captain Henrik Zetterberg, who holds the same position for the Detroit Red Wings, will not play for the rest of the Olympics because of a herniated disk in his back, the Swedish Hockey Federation announced.
Detroit general manager Ken Holland also told the Detroit Free Press that Zetterberg is not likely to be ready when the NHL season resumes.
"Obviously he's a huge part of our team, but what hurts right now even more is to see what he's going through, the pain that he's in," said defenseman Niklas Kronwall, a Red Wings teammate who was named Swedish captain in Zetterberg's absence. "You don't want to see anybody go through what he's going through right now. We all feel for him. He's a big part of the team, a big loss. At the same time we can't feel bad for ourselves. We have other great players on this team."
Patrik Berglund of the St. Louis Blues replaced Zetterberg on a line with Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog and NHL teammate Alexander Steen, and forward Marcus Johansson, who mostly has played on the wing the past two seasons for the Washington Capitals, replaced Berglund in the middle on a line with Detroit's Gustav Nyquist and Alfredsson.
"We addressed it this morning," Alfredsson said. "[Friday] coming to the game, we focused on the game at hand. We know it is a tight schedule here around the Olympics. There's not much time to sit and dwell on things. We're just going to move forward."
Switzerland's defensive discipline kept Sweden from many threatening chances in the first two periods. The Swiss structure was compact and positionally sound, keeping the Swedes far from Berra, a Calgary Flames goaltender, and keeping them in position to block lots of long-range attempts.
Sweden was able to control the puck for stretches of the first period, but finding a way through the Swiss defense was another matter. Switzerland ended up outshooting the Swedes 13-5 in the period despite having the puck less, using plenty of counterattacking hockey to build the advantage. Lundqvist definitely had more tough saves to make for Sweden than his counterpart Berra of the Calgary Flames in the opening 20 minutes.
"They were flying," Lundqvist said. "We talked about it though; this is a really good team the last few years and you have to respect them. They play a hard, smart game with a lot of speed. The first 10 minutes they were all over us, but we regrouped. In the last half of the game I think we played our game and they looked more tired."
The Swedes had better control in the second period, but although more shots found their way to Berra, most still were from the perimeter.
Switzerland's defensive acumen in this tournament is now well-established. The Swiss shut out Latvia in their opening game, scoring a goal with 7.9 seconds left in regulation to win 1-0. Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller made 21 saves in that game, but coach Sean Simpson opted for Berra against the favorites in the group.
"We had a tremendous first period," said Simpson, who announced Hiller will start Saturday against the Czech Republic (Noon ET, NBCSN, TSN). "We had outshot them and had our chances to score. Lundqvist held them in the game. If we score one or two there maybe it's a different game. In the second period we got three penalties -- one was a little questionable -- and it took us out of our rhythm. But I really liked how we reacted in the third and we held onto our chance to win the game."
The Swedes avoided an upset and will try to find more offense Saturday against Latvia (Noon ET, USA, SNET1). If they can prevent goals the way they did against the Swiss when they face teams with more offensive firepower, they will remain a medal contender, even without Zetterberg.
"It is just like anything; you deal with it and move on," Alfredsson said. "We're going to be thinking about Henrik for the rest of tournament. He'll be with us. We're going to move forward. We have good depth on our team and Berglund stepping up is going to play a big role for us going forward. Nothing changes as far as our goals or what we want to accomplish as far as our goals."