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Berglund giving Swedes? rivals the Blues

by Bill Meltzer /
No one has ever doubted the ability of St. Louis Blues center Patrik Berglund to be an impact player at any level of competition. Consistency has always the main issue for the 22-year-old native of Vasteras, Sweden. Coming off a 22-goal, 52-point season for the Blues, Berglund has spread his wings at the World Championships in Slovakia.

Berglund's performance is a major reason the Swedes will play for the gold medal on Sunday against Finland. His size has created matchup problems for opposing teams, and his soaring confidence has made him almost impossible to take off the puck. With 8 goals in eight games, he is tied with Finland's Jarkko Immonen for the tournament lead. Berglund's 10 points rank second, one behind Immonen.

"This is my second Worlds," said Berglund, who made his senior international debut at the 2009 tournament in Switzerland. "I think having a little more experience helps, and I'm getting more ice time and playing power play."

Berglund was a major force in Sweden's 5-2 semifinal win against the previously unbeaten Czech Republic. With the Swedes trailing 1-0 early in the second period, Berglund scored a power-play goal to knot the score and end Ondrej Pavelec's tournament shutout streak at 88 minutes. On the sequence, Berglund was blocked on his initial shot attempt but regained the puck and fired a tracer past a screened Pavelec.

The goal prompted a surge from the Swedes. Calgary's Mikael Backlund's deflected snap shot from the right circle beat Pavelec and gave Tre Kronor a lead it would never relinquish. Sweden went on to add three goals in the final period. Berglund punctuated the victory with an empty-netter in the final minute of play.

"We're on the big rink here, but I'm just trying to play my game," Berglund said. "I've been getting some good looks at the net, and the puck has been going in for me."

During the NHL season, Berglund endured an offensive drought after the All-Star break.  In an 11-game span from Feb. 27 to March 19, he scored just 1 goal and had only 3 points while posting a minus-5 rating. To make matters worse, the team as a whole was scuffling. Over that same stretch, the Blues won just four games. In the tightly packed Western Conference, prolonged slumps proved fatal to the playoff hopes of the bubble teams that ultimately missed the postseason.

Berglund closed out the season strong, however. He scored 4 goals and 7 points in the Blues' final eight games, bookending a campaign that started with 4 goals in the first eight games. The Swede has transferred his increased confidence to the World Championships.

The tournament got off to a poor start for Tre Kronor -- Norway defeated Sweden 5-4 in a shootout for its first win ever against its Nordic neighbor. Berglund tallied his first goal of the tournament, but later failed to score on the final shot of the shootout, firing wide of the right post.

Team Sweden used the loss as motivation to re-emphasize disciplined two-way hockey. Berglund scored two goals in a 6-2 win over Team USA that restored the confidence of a Swedish team that features many young players with limited senior-level international experience. Apart from scoring the first and fourth goals for the Swedes, Berglund was involved physically throughout the game. He had five shots on goal in 16:16 of ice time.

"Berglund is a gifted young player and he can be hard to play against," Team USA coach Scott Gordon said. "When he's on his game, he's as good as anyone in this tournament."

Sweden has won eight gold medals at the World Championships, most recently in 2006. The team has taken bronze each of the last two years. Berglund was a bit player for the 2009 squad, logging a lone assist in seven games. In the upcoming gold medal game, the Swedes will take on their traditional archrival, Finland. The Finns won their only tournament gold medal in 1995 by beating the Swedes in Stockholm's Globe Arena in the deciding game.

Friday's semifinal win over the Czechs avenged a heartbreaking loss in last year's semis. With Sweden leading 2-1 in the final half-minute of play, the Czechs rallied to tie the game. Stunned, the Swedes lost in overtime and found themselves playing for bronze instead of gold. While beating the Czechs this year and assuring themselves of at least a silver medal is a decidedly better feeling, Berglund and his teammates have a bigger goal in mind.

"All along, we've been focused on the gold medal," said Berglund. "We believe in ourselves."

In terms of long-term impact on Berglund's career, the Blues hope he can parlay his MVP-worthy performance in Slovakia into a true breakout campaign in his fourth NHL season. If Berglund stays healthy, there may be no stopping him.

"Patrik has been doing very well on the world stage, and you can see him taking charge," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "He is definitely one of the players we are counting on to help get our team to the next level. He's a young veteran now, and his experience here can only help."

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