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Semifinals: Sweden vs. Russia; Canada vs. Finland

by Mike G. Morreale

The semifinal round of the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship will take the spotlight Saturday when Sweden plays Russia and Canada battles Finland at Malmo Arena in Malmo, Sweden.

The survivors will meet in the gold-medal game slated for Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (NHLN-US). The bronze-medal game is scheduled for 9 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Canada is making its 16th consecutive appearance in the tournament semifinals. Sweden is making its eighth straight semifinal-round appearance, and this will mark the fourth straight for Russia. Finland failed to advance to the medal round at the 2013 WJC, and this is only the second time in eight years the country will have a chance to play for a medal.

A new champion is guaranteed Sunday since Russia beat the United States, the defending gold medalist, 5-3 in the quarterfinal round Thursday. In other quarterfinal action Sweden defeated Slovakia 6-0; Canada defeated Switzerland 4-1; and Finland defeated Czech Republic 5-3.

Here is a closer look at the semifinal matchups Saturday:


9 a.m. ET, NHLN-US

The two highest-scoring teams in the tournament should provide plenty of excitement at sold-out Malmo Arena. But don't be surprised if the contest turns into a goaltending duel between Sweden's Oscar Dansk (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Russia's Andrey Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay Lightning), two of the tournament's finest.

Sweden, which has averaged 5.6 goals per game, has 11 returning players from the team that won the silver last year in Ufa, Russia, and 10 players have totaled four or more points at this year's tournament. Team captain Filip Forsberg (Nashville Predators) and Elias Lindholm (Carolina Hurricanes) already had played in the NHL this season before being loaned to the Swedish Hockey Federation and have combined for five goals and 19 points.

There are 15 players on the Sweden roster with at least one goal, and Sweden ranks third on the power play (35 percent) and penalty kill (83 percent). Forsberg, Andre Burakovsky (Washington Capitals), Alexander Wennberg (Columbus Blue Jackets), Andreas Johnson (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Jacob de la Rose (Montreal Canadiens) all have three goals.

Gustav Olofsson (Minnesota Wild) tops all defensemen on the team with five points (four assists), and Dansk has four wins, one shutout, a 1.75 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

Russia, which has averaged 5.2 goals per game, ranks first on the power play (43 percent) and second on the penalty kill (85 percent). Thirteen players have scored for Russia, and eight players have four of more points, including Mikhail Grigorenko (Buffalo Sabres), Pavel Buchnevich (New York Rangers) and Anton Slepyshev (Edmonton Oilers). The top line of Slepyshev centering Grigorenko and Buchnevich has accounted for eight goals and 21 points in five games.

On defense Nikita Zadorov (Buffalo Sabres), who scored two power-play goals in the victory against the United States on Thursday, has four goals, five points and a plus-4 rating. Vasilevskiy, who made 30 saves against the U.S., is 3-1-0 with a 2.01 GAA and .928 save percentage.


1:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US

Canada has had its way with Finland in recent years at the World Junior Championship, winning the past eight matchups.

Canada boasts an all-time record of 22-7-6 against the Finns and beat Finland 4-2 in a pre-tournament match Dec. 20. Still, Canada coach Brent Sutter knows his team will take nothing for granted. After all the Canadians haven't won a World Juniors gold medal since 2009. It is also coming off a fourth-place finish at last year's tournament, the first time since 1998 Canada left a WJC without a medal.

"There's tons of work still to be done," Canada defenseman Griffin Reinhart told reporters Thursday. "We expect ourselves to be here but you know it's not over yet. You can't take anything lightly. We have to play every game like it's our last."

Sutter, who led Canada to gold medals at the 2005 and 2006 WJC, agrees.

"The parity in this tournament is really strong," he said. "If you're not right and you're not playing close to the level you need to play at, any given night you can be beaten."

Canada has been led offensively by Anthony Mantha (Detroit Red Wings) who has five goals and is tied for the tournament lead with 11 points. Jonathan Drouin (Tampa Bay Lightning) has two goals and eight points, Curtis Lazar (Ottawa Senators) has three goals and six points and Nicolas Petan (Winnipeg Jets) has four goals and five points. Sam Reinhart, who is an A-rated prospect on NHL Central Scouting's December list of players to watch list for the 2014 NHL Draft, has two goals and five points. Connor McDavid, not eligible for the NHL Draft until 2015, has one goal and four points.

On defense Derrick Pouliot (Pittsburgh Penguins) has one goal and four points. Griffin Reinhart (New York Islanders), who returned to the lineup against the United States on Tuesday after serving the final three games of a four-game suspension assessed at the 2013 WJC, has had an immediate impact physically and as a leader.

It appears as though Matt Dumba (Minnesota Wild), who went hard into the side boards and missed the second half of the second period after being tripped by Swiss forward Vincent Praplan on Thursday, will play against Finland.

Zachary Fucale (Montreal Canadiens) is expected to start his fourth straight game in goal. He owns a 2.00 GAA and .911 save percentage for Canada, which has averaged 4.6 goals per game.

The Finns have the best penalty-killing unit in the tournament, yielding just one goal in 21 times shorthanded. Finland also is second-to-last in total penalty minutes, averaging 11.20 penalty minutes per game.

Offensively the team is led by captain Teuvo Teravainen (Chicago Blackhawks), who is a team-leading plus-7 and has nine points, all assists. Saku Maenalanen (Nashville Predators) has a tournament-best six goals and seven points, and Rasmus Kulmala has one goal and four points.

On defense Esa Lindell (Dallas Stars) tops the team with four points (three assists) and is tied for third with 14 shots on goal. The Finns have 13 players with at least one goal in the tournament, so scoring has been spread out.

Expected starting goaltender Juuse Saros (Nashville Predators) is 3-0-1 with a 1.67 GAA and .938 save percentage.


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