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Dansk's heroics lead Sweden into WJC final

by Mike G. Morreale

Oskar Sundqvist scored the decisive goal early in the third period, and goalie Oscar Dansk made it stand with a spectacular 26-save performance, to lead the Swedish National Junior Team to a 2-1 victory against Russia in the semifinal round of the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship on Saturday before a crowd of 11,725 at Malmo Arena in Malmo, Sweden.

Sweden advanced to its third straight gold medal match and will play Finland, which defeated Canada 5-1. The championship round is scheduled Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (NHLN-US) at Malmo Arena. Tre Kronor will look to win gold on home ice for the first time in its history, having come up short in 1979, 1984, 1993, 2000 and 2007.

Russia will face Canada in the bronze medal game at 9 a.m. ET (NHLN-US) on Sunday.

"I think we played pretty good," Sweden forward Alexander Wennberg told the IIHF website. "Russia's a great team. At the end, it was tough. They had a lot of scoring chances against us. But we had a nice game and I think we deserved the win."

Sweden has won nine of its past 10 meetings against Russia, dating back to 2008. Additionally, six have been decided by one goal, including a shootout when Russia won gold in 2011, and two in overtime when Sweden won gold in 2012. The host nation also earned a 3-2 win in preliminary-round play on New Year's Eve.

Damir Zhafyarov pulled Russia within 2-1 with a bad angle goal from low in the right circle in the third at 6:37. After taking a pass from Alexander Barabanov, Zhafyarov pulled up and ripped a shot that Dansk let slip through the pads, giving Russia new life.

"We were disappointed not to win, but that's life," Zhafyarov said. "These things happen in hockey, but we'll be ready to fight for the bronze medal [Sunday]. It's always nice to win any medal."

Russia continued to play hard the remainder of the game, looking for the equalizer, but Dansk was tremendous in the trenches en route to stopping nine shots over the final 20 minutes. His best save came with 3:12 remaining when he denied Bogdan Yakimov off a one-timer from the slot. Yakimov received his chance after collecting a pass from Ivan Barbashev between the circles.

"He was unbelievable," Sweden forward Andreas Johnson said. "He made some pretty sick saves. He was great."

Dansk, a second-round pick (No. 31) of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012, has five wins at the tournament with a 1.60 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. He owns a 2.17 GAA and .919 save percentage in 21 games for the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League this season.

Russia gained an extra attacker when goalie Andrey Vasilevskiy went to the bench with 1:19 remaining in regulation and the faceoff in Sweden's zone. The Russians eventually gained a 6-on-4 advantage when Sweden's Jesper Pettersson was whistled for slashing at 19:41, but Dansk and his defense did the job.

Tempers flared when time expired as Pettersson and Russia's Andrei Mironov began exchanging blows and were each given roughing minors. Russia's Nikita Zadorov and Sweden's Robert Hagg were also assessed cross checking minors at the 20-minute mark. It's possible that the International Ice Hockey Federation will review Pettersson's actions since the Swedish defenseman skated out of the penalty box at the final buzzer and engaged with Mironov.

"I saw one of my teammates get hit from behind," Pettersson said. "I got to skate there and stand up for my guys."

Vasilevskiy, a first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2012, also starred with 19 saves. For Vasilevskiy, however, it marked his fourth loss to Sweden in 14 career appearances at the World Junior Championship. Vasilevskiy entered the game Saturday with a 10-3 record at the WJC, including a 10-0 mark against teams other than Sweden.

Russia was given a golden opportunity late in the second when Elias Lindholm was called for a double minor for high sticking Valeri Vasiliev with six seconds remaining. It appeared as though Lindholm's stick first made contact on the shaft, but it ultimately clipped Vasiliev, a 2012 seventh-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, in the mouth and drew blood.

Not only did Sweden hold Russia without a shot for the remaining 3:54 of the man advantage to open the third, but Sundqvist would extend the lead to 2-0 when he scored off a breakaway at 4:55. The third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2012 gathered a stretch pass from Erik Karlsson at the blue line and broke in before roofing the puck over the right pad of Vasilevskiy.

It was as if Dansk and Vasilevskiy dared the other to flinch knowing one mistake could be the difference. As hard as both teams fought to gain position in the offensive zone, both goalies refused to give in. Dansk made seven saves in the second, when he was also run into by Russia's Vadim Khlopotov off a 2-on-1 at 9:02. He made a great save against Zhafyarov off a backhand attempt in the crease at 15:59.

Vasilevskiy was equally strong, stopping a point-blank shot by Sundqvist from between the circles at 11:08. He'd finish with eight saves in the second.

Sweden opened a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by Filip Forsberg (Nashville Predators) with 49 seconds remaining in the first. Five seconds after Russia denied Sweden on a 5-on-3 opportunity, the host country connected on a 5-on-4 when Lindholm (Carolina Hurricanes) skated from the top of the left circle into the high slot before sending a pass back to Forsberg at the left faceoff dot. The captain ripped home his fourth of the tournament to give his country the early lead.

"[Lindholm] made a great pass and I put it in," Forsberg said. "That was a great pass."

The goal gives Forsberg 12 points, including four goals, in the tournament. The first-round pick (No. 11) of the Washington Capitals in 2012 is in the running to become the first Swede to lead the WJC in scoring since Henrik Sedin in 2000 (13 points).

Russia, which was dictating play and winning most loose pucks in the first, lost its edge with the two late penalties to Nikita Tryamkin (holding) and Alexander Barabanov (delay of game) at 17:06 and 18:39, respectively.

Both goalies proved to be on the top of their game in the first. Dansk was called upon to make his first big stop just 40 seconds in when he turned away a blast from the right circle by defenseman Zadorov. When Pettersson was whistled for roughing 16 seconds later, Russia went on the man advantage and maintained good pressure, but Sweden's Nick Sorensen and Robin Norell blocked shots and Dansk stopped three others that reached the crease to keep the game scoreless. Dansk, who also denied a big shot from the right circle by Vyacheslav Osnovin at 17:03, made 10 saves in the first.

Vasilevskiy's first save of the game came 4:03 into the first when he snared a quick wrist shot off Forsberg's stick off a quick transition from between the circles. The 6-foot-3 left-handed goalie had nine saves in the first.

NOTES: Sweden's top three players of the tournament were announced at the conclusion of the game during a post-game ceremony. The list included forwards Johnson (Toronto Maple Leafs), Wennberg (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Forsberg. … Russia's top players were Anton Slepyshev (Edmonton Oilers), Vasilevskiy and Mikhail Grigorenko (Buffalo Sabres).

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

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