Andrei Mezin struck no fear into this group of Swedes, but the Belarus goaltender still gave the defending gold medalists reasons to wonder if they have it in them to repeat what they did four years ago in Torino.
Mezin was behind the most stunning upset in the Salt Lake Olympics eight years ago when he made 47 saves to lift his country to a win over the talented Swedes in the quarterfinals.
Only four players from the '02 Games remain on the Swedish National team, and just like the Canadians, Americans and Russians, the Swedes were given an unfriendly reminder of how difficult winning in this tournament can be, even against inferior opponents.
Behind backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson's 17 saves and a pair of goals from Daniel Alfredsson, Sweden hung on for a 4-2 victory on Friday despite nearly blowing all of a 3-0 lead at Canada Hockey Place.
"You have seen this in the previous games, too," Sweden captain Nicklas Lidstrom told NHL.com. "They are very close games. They are not easy games to win when you are favored to win or supposed to win. You have to battle to the end."
Sweden did that, finally clinching it with Alfredsson's goal with 10.4 seconds left in the third period. But like the other supposed favorites in this tournament, they have plenty to think about heading into Rivalry Sunday's game against Finland.
The winner could earn a bye into the quarterfinals.
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"It's a long history and it's always something special, but at the same time right now it's only a game," Sweden coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson said of playing the Finns. "I don't think it's going to be a war in any way, but it's always a big challenge and I think both of us are getting there slowly, picking it up. We have to fine-tune the small details in the game and I think we're working on it, but we'd like it to work on them."
The Belarusians made a mad rush to the finish line in the final 26 minutes to give Sweden a major scare, just as Switzerland did to Canada before losing in a shootout on Thursday.
Dmitri Meleshko scored twice, including his second with 8:27 remaining in the third period off a rebound from the slot. Shortly after Meleshko made it 3-2, Konstantin Zakharov rang a shot off the crossbar.
Belarus just kept coming.
"As soon as they got their second goal you kind of saw the skill they have and they were not backing up anymore, they were going after the next goal," Henrik Zetterberg told NHL.com. "The first two games we hadn't played in our end much, so as soon as we started playing in our own end in the third we kind of looked a little surprised. We have to get used to that. We're going to spend more time there when we play Finland."
The Swedes are going to see a completely different opponent Sunday.
Finland won't clog the neutral zone as much as Belarus did. The Finns will push because they are a far more talented than the Belarusian squad, and the Swedes know they will have to adjust accordingly.
Gustafsson doesn't seem concerned about it, though he was disgusted with how his team played in the third period. He was also happy that Belarus threw everything they had at his squad.
"It's good because those things will happen in the future of this tournament, so it's good to get a chance to work with it," Gustafsson said. "We made some simple mistakes in those situations, but now we can look at it with the players. It's our second game after just two practices together and we have to learn from every game a little more. When we play Finland, it's going to be one more step up level-wise, so this was good for us."
Mezin was solid with 34 saves and kept his team within striking distance in the third with a dazzling stop on Henrik Sedin at 5:34. After Mattias Ohlund's shot deflected off the crossbar, the puck dropped to Sedin's feet and he tried to slam it in, but Mezin cut across the crease to stone him. Meleshko scored six minutes later.
Gustavsson was playing for Henrik Lundqvist, who did not dress and actually spent a portion of the game commenting for Swedish TV. He will be back in net against Finland -- and he'd better hope his defense tightens up.
"Expectations here are we should win every game and maybe we should win it easily," Alfredsson told NHL.com. "I thought we did a good job for most of the game, but we have to play differently, too. We could have scored three or four more in the first, but they grew as the game went on and when they got a little bit of a taste of catching up they threw everything they had at us."
The Swedes jumped out to a 2-0 lead within the first 10 minutes of the game on goals by Daniel Sedin and Alfredsson. They also cashed in 9:35 into the second period when the fourth line came through as Johan Franzen finished off a feed from Sami Pahlsson.
However, Meleshko scored roughly five minutes later, and the game started to turn.
"I thought we played a really good first period and after that somehow we got a little too much confidence and started cutting corners a little bit," Gustafsson said. "It's not lazy, that's not the right word, but it's more trying to find the easy way out and we didn't go to work where you have to pay the price. That let them back into the game."
That kind of performance will cost Sweden a loss on Sunday.
"Well, we won the game right, and that's all that matters," Daniel Sedin said. "I mean, Canada played Switzerland last night and they won in a shootout. Everyone picks the Swedes to win these kinds of games in these tournaments, but it's really tough."Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.comGAME SUMMARYSCORINGBLR
0 1 1 - 2SWE
2 1 1 - 4First Period
1. SWE, D. Sedin (H. Sedin, Weinhandl) 6:40
2. SWE, Alfredsson (Johansson, Backstrom) 8:15 (PPG)Penalties
- Zetterberg SWE (roughing) 3:36, Mialeshka BLR (hooking) 8:15, Stas BLR (holding the stick) 12:31, Mikhaliou BLR (slashing) 14:38.Second Period
3. SWE, Franzen (Pahlsson, Modin) 9:35
4. BLR, Meleshko (Stasenko, Ryadinski) 14:40 (PPG)Penalties
- Hornqvist SWE (hooking) 13:53, Kastsiuchonak BLR (hooking) 19:22.Third Period
5. BLR, Meleshko (Kulakov, Streit) 11:33
6. SWE, Alfredsson (H. Sedin, D. Sedin) 19:49 Penalties
- None.SHOTS ON GOALBLR
6 6 7 - 19SWE
17 14 7 - 38Goaltenders
(goals-shots against) - BLR: Mezin (L, 4-38); SWE: Gustavsson (W, 2-19).Power plays
(goals-chances) - BLR: 1-2; SWE: 1-4.