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Sweden powers past Finland to reach semis at WJC

by Mike Brophy / NHL.com

TORONTO – Sweden used a three-goal third period to defeat Finland 6-3 at Air Canada Centre on Friday in a quarterfinal game of the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Sweden was 3-for-5 on the power play, scoring twice while Finland was two men short, and also killed off a four-minute penalty in the third period while leading by one goal.

Sweden will face Russia in its ninth straight semifinal appearance Sunday.

It was the 33rd time Sweden and Finland have met in the WJC, with Sweden now leading the series 16-15-2. It was also a rematch of last year’s gold medal game won by Finland 3-2 in overtime in Malmo, Sweden.

Asked what he thought was more important in terms of securing the victory – the power-play goals or the four-minute kill – Sweden goaltender Linus Soderstrom (New York Islanders) responded diplomatically.

“I would like to say both,” Soderstrom said. “I think we won this game because we are really strong on special units now. Coming into the game we had the second best power play behind Canada – but we are closing in.”

Sweden’s penalty kill ranks first in the tournament, having not allowed a goal. Soderstrom said there is a specific reason why Sweden has enjoyed success while playing shorthanded.

“Our forwards like to block shots,” Soderstrom said. “They say that for every 10 blocked shots you save a goal and our guys are not afraid to do that. That’s why we have been so successful on the PK.”

After a scoreless first period, where Finland outshot Sweden 9-7, things opened up considerably in the second period with each team scoring three times.

Finland opened the scoring at 1:44 when Juuso Ikonen scored his first goal of the tournament on a breakaway. The play was set up by a timely blocked shot by Finland’s Mikko Rantanen (2015 draft eligible) which allowed Ikonen to take off alone.

Finland got itself into penalty trouble early in the second period when Joonas Lyytinen (Nashville Predators) and Atte Makinen were assessed successive minor penalties 47 seconds apart and Sweden took full advantage scoring two power-play goals; the first on a 5-on-3.

Defenseman Gustav Forsling (Vancouver Canucks) tied the game 1-1 with his third goal at 4:03 after taking a pass from William Nylander (Toronto Maple Leafs) and scoring past Finland goalie Ville Husso with a slap shot from the right point. Lucas Wallmark (Carolina Hurricanes) gave Sweden a 2-1 lead with his second of the tournament 47 seconds later.

Sweden added to its lead when Adam Brodecki tipped home a Robin Norell (Chicago Blackhawks) slap shot from the point for his first goal of the tournament.

Rantanen was not credited with an assist on the Ikonen goal despite his role in the play, but got his name on the score sheet with his fourth goal at 9:54 with a snap shot to the far side of the goal from 20 feet out.

With each team playing a man short, Finland’s Kasperi Kapanen (Pittsburgh Penguins) tied the game 3-3 with his first goal of the tournament. Kapanen, who missed last year’s WJC because of a shoulder injury, beat Sweden defenseman William Lagesson (Edmonton Oilers) to a rebound before scoring.

With Finland playing two men short again, Sweden regained the lead 4-3 at 1:24 of the third period as Adrian Kempe (Los Angeles Kings) scored his fourth goal of the WJC.

Finland had a good opportunity to tie the game when Sweden’s Leon Bristedt was assessed a double minor for high sticking at 8:22. Despite controlling the play with the man advantage and generating quality shots, Finland was unable to score on the extended power play.

“I thought that could be the turning point of the game,” Soderstrom said. “If the Finns had got one quick goal they would still have had two minutes left with the power play. I knew it was going to be very important for us to kill it off and after we did I felt we got the momentum back from the Finns and took some energy from them. After that they did not create as much.”

Kapanen felt Finland was the better of the two teams, but agreed giving up goals while playing two men short was critical.

“I was surprised with how Sweden played because I thought we were so much better,” Kapanen said. “And when a team gets a 5-on-3 two times in the game and they score three goals from those power plays it gets to you a little bit. It’s not the referee’s fault that he gives us penalties but seeing them on the screen it gets you going.”

Sweden added to its lead at 13:52 when Oskar Lindblom (Philadelphia Flyers) connected on a wrist shot from the high slot to make it 5-3.

Wallmark concluded the scoring with his second of the game into an empty net with 4.8 seconds remaining.

Finland defenseman Mika Ilvonen said it is disappointing his team can’t defend its 2014 WJC title.

“Absolutely,” Ilvonen said. “Our team had the potential to go much further than this. The game was 3-3 and we had chances. We were close and that’s what was disappointing. We believed in our team but it just wasn't to be.”

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