OSTRAVA/TRINEC, Czech Republic - Team Sweden rallied and defeated Team Finland 3-2 in overtime at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship opening game on Thursday. The victory extended the team's group stage winning streak to 49 games.
Alexander Holtz, a top-ranked prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft, scored the game winner for Team Sweden on a power play with 4.9 seconds remaining in overtime.
"It was a good game," Rangers prospect Nils Lundkvist said. "We created a lot of opportunities and missed three or four breakaways. Their goalie stood on his head," he said of Finland goalie Justus Annunen, who had 45 saves.
The Sweden national team hasn't lost a group stage game since New Years Eve 2006, a 3-2 loss to Team USA.
"It's always fun to win," Lundkvist said. "The streak is a fun thing but not anything you are thinking too much about. You want to win every game, and this is a process. We want to be at our best after New Years."
The showdown was the first game of the tournament for each team. Finland, which won the gold medal in Vancouver last year, scored first. Late in the first period, forward Patrik Puistola beat Team Sweden goaltender Hugo Alnefelt, just three seconds after Team Sweden was playing at full strength after a penalty kill.
The second period had barely started when Team Sweden lit the lamp for the first time in the tournament. Nils Höglander made in 1-1 after 1 minute and 5 seconds, scoring a lacrosse-style goal. The Canucks prospect skated behind the net, lifted the puck in the air and swept it in behind Annunen. It was the second time this year the forward scored a lacrosse-style goal. He also scored one for Rogle BK in the SHL against Djurgarden on October 29th.
"I was shocked, but at the same time not - he is a very skilled player," Lundkvist said. "Really nice."
Finland got the lead back with 6:25 remaining in the second. Puistola picked up an assist, his second point of the night, and Kristian Tanus made sure the puck crossed the line behind Alnefelt. Team Sweden had opportunities to tie the game in the third, and after several attempts Samuel Fagemo picked up a rebound and tied the game 2-2.
"I'm happy that we fought back," said Team Sweden Head Coach Tomas Monten, "and worked our way into the game again. We want to win two of the group stage games to make sure we're moving on to the next round."
Lundkvist, drafted in 2018 in the first round (No. 28), is playing in his second World Juniors. He played 23:18, while forward Karl Henriksson - also drafted by the Rangers (58th overall in 2019) - got 12:56 minutes of ice time. Lundkvist played a central role in Team Sweden's power play and showed some of his skills in the offensive zone.
"I'm pretty satisfied," he said. "It was a solid effort from me, I think. I had great first passes and played the way I want to. I am pretty pleased."
"I think he was good - he saw a lot of ice time," Monten said of the defenseman. "He is a leader on our time and plays both on the PK and the PP. On 5-on-5, he has a shutdown role with [Adam] Ginning. But he gets a lot of opportunities in the offensive zone."
Sweden will next play on Saturday against Team Switzerland, which earlier in the day defeated Kazakstan 5-3. Despite the win, there were a few things the team needs to adjust to make sure its streak reaches 50. Last year, Switzerland beat Sweden in the quarterfinals.