The Malik Report
Red Wings’ Ericsson assists on gamer, Kronwall strong as Sweden beats Finland, advances to Gold game
by George Malik on 02/21/14 at 09:26 AM ET
Updated 3x at 1:23 PM: The Swedes played against Finland at something of a slow-boil clip--each and every period took a while to warm up--but there was in fact some scintillating hockey played in front of an absolutely dead crowd at Bolshoy.
Between Niklas Kronwall's battles with Teemu Selanne and the Swedes' ability to rally from a 1-0 deficit and oodles of penalty-killing (some due to real calls and some baffling Tim Peel Specials), the Swedes quietly, efficiently sometimes grittily punched their ticket to the Sunday's Gold Medal game by out-working and out-hustling the gritty, trap-happy Finns, emerging with a 2-1 victory (and an "EriCsson to EriKsson" game-winning goal).
It was a very "different" kind of game--Jonathan Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall played OODLES of time and were fantastic (save some terrifying Ericsson pinches) as the Swedes basically rolled 3 lines and 4 defensemen, Daniel Alfredsson was gritty and abrasive, when Gustav Nyquist did play, he was intense, and Jimmie Ericsson had a fantastic game, too.
In fact, the Ericsson brothers and Kronwall were the subject of absolutely gushy praise as big-minute-munchers, defensive stalwarts, and in the case of Jonathan and Kronwall, key offensive cogs, all issued by NBCSN's Pierre McGuire and Eddie Olczyk sans one mention of "subtle interference," which was nothing less than bizarre.
It can't be said enough that while Henrik Lundqvist deserves all the praise in the world for his strong play, soft first goal against included, but he received a TON of help from Ericsson and Kronwall today.
Ericsson did not have the best start...
And Niklas Kronwall and Teemu Selanne had an all-game-long feud...
But the Swedes killed off 4 power plays, and Ericsson and Eriksson's gamer was a beauty:
Alfredsson went 0-and-3 on faceoffs, didn't take a shot and finished even in 15:36;
Ericsson played had an assist and 1 shot in 22:02 of ice time;
Kronwall went scoreless and had 2 shots in 22:06 of ice time--with Kronwall and Ericsson leading the team in ice time;
And in very limited action as the team's 13th forward, Gustav Nyquist had no shots in 3:38 played.
Sweden is 5-0 in the tournament, defeating the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Latvia and Slovenia before meeting its first big opponent in Finland. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist was good when needed, such as on a Finnish 5-on-3 and late in the game, on another power play. But Sweden mostly relied on being bigger and more physical.
Olli Jokinen gave Finland an early lead, but Loui Eriksson and Erik Karlsson made it 2-1 for Sweden after 40 minutes. The Finns ended up using Kari Lehtonen in net, as Tuukka Rask was out with flu. He is the only Finn without a roommate, so the pre-tournament quarantinelike conditions at least ensured that no teammate was infected.
The early part of the game belonged entirely to the Swedes, who kept Lehtonen busy while Lundqvist yawned. An early power play for the Finns didn't make any difference in tempo. It wasn't until past the midway point, when Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall was called for interference on Teemu Selanne that Lundqvist had to be sharp. The Finns tried hard for their go-to move: get the puck to Selanne, who hovered like a sniper in the low left circle. One pass went wide of Selanne, the second went onto his stick — and straight into one of Lundqvist's pads.
The Finns broke Lundqvist six minutes into the second period, when Jokinen's shot squirted beneath him. The goal was reviewed, which gave the Finns time to gather by their bench, ready for a group leap when the ruling favored them.
Eriksson used a great feed from Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson to tie the game five minutes later, sneaking near the crease alone to find a wide opening. Sweden's power play cruised the second time, when Karlsson wound up his monstrous shot at the blue line and scored the winning goal.
Update #2: Here's St. James with quotes...
"It's an unbelievable feeling being back in the finals and playing for gold," said Sweden forward Daniel Alfredsson of the Detroit Red Wings. "It's been an unbelievable tournament, and we've had a lot of fun."
Erik Karlsson secured the victory with a blue-line blast that thrilled teammates, converting on a power play in the second period.
"He really is amazing," Sweden captain Niklas Kronwall, another Red Wing, said. "It really is a joy to watch him out there."
Finland came into the game riding a high note after taking down host Russia in the quarterfinals. The Swedes had taken notice. "We played close attention to that game," Alfredsson said. "Finland played outstanding. Got Russia to where they wanted. We had one big goal today and that was not get caught flat-footed in the neutral zone and not turn pucks over, and we were able to achieve that."
Henrik Zetterberg and Henrik Sedin, but the remaining players have taken advantage of ideal conditions to still succeed.
"We've progressed every game," Sweden defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, another Red Wing, said. "We came together pretty good today and we felt that we kept them to the outside, and that's what we've been talking about. We might have been too easy on the other teams, letting guys in the middle. But today, we did a hell of a better job."
Here's DetroitRedWings.com's Andrea Nelson's take...
“We’re getting closer and closer,” Vancouver forward Daniel Sedin told NBC Sports Net’s Pierre McGuire. “I think we’re going the right way. Our first game was our worst game and this was our best game so that’s a good sign. We got a long way to go but it’s going to be a good matchup in the finals.”
The semifinal matchup between Nordic rivals Sweden and Finland didn’t disappoint, but the Finns got off to a rough start before the puck even dropped. According to Finnish officials, starting goaltender Tukka Rask would not be available for the game due to the flu. The Bruins goalie was a key part of Finland’s success in the tournament, making 37 saves in the country’s 3-1 victory over Russia Wednesday and stopping 71 of 78 shots through three games.
Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who allowed one goal in Finland’s 6-1 victory over Norway in the preliminary tournament, replaced Rask in goal.
The Swedes killed three penalties, including a 5-on-3 advantage, to help secure a scoreless first period. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 10 saves in the first 20 minutes, including a glove deflection on forward Leo Komarov’s shot that was quickly cleared from the crease by Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall.
“(He) makes the save when you need him to make a save and that’s all you can ask for from a goalie,” Sedin said.
Five Wings, including Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Daniel Alfredsson, Gustav Nyquist and Jonas Gustavsson, advance with Sweden to the gold-medal game on Sunday. Kronwall and Alfredsson will be competing for their second gold medal, while their three other NHL teammates will look to collect their first Olympic medal.
Niklas Hjalmarsson made an intriguing comment regarding Sweden's style of play to the Hockey News's Ken Campbell...
When looking forward to their gold medal opponent, the Swedes were kind of like that guy who moves from northern Manitoba to southern California. Despite his beginnings, the guy can never quite readjust to the bone-chilling temperatures when he visits his folks back home.
So it goes with the big ice. Conventional wisdom would hold that the Swedes would hold an advantage over Canada or USA, their gold medal opponent after defeating Finland 2-1 in the semifinal. But 24 of the 25 players on the Swedish roster make their living in the NHL these days.
“Honestly, if you look at our team, most of our senior careers we’ve been over in (North America),” said Swedish defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. “We’ve been Americanized, or however you say it. We’re really used to playing on the small ice surface, too, so it’s been taking a while for us too to get used to it. I don’t think it’s a huge advantage for us. I think it’s pretty equal.”
Sportsnet's Mark Spector lamented the "chess game" on 100-foot-wide ice as the Swedes tried to penetrate the Finnish Trap...
Daniel Alfredsson said it better than we ever could, speaking with the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman after a tightly knit, 2-1 semifinal win over Finland.
“It was a chess match,” Alfredsson admitted, “more than that intense battle that everyone expected.”
Yes, people. “A chess match.” We woke up at 5 a.m. to watch “a chess match.”
We have heard the term invoked before after National Hockey League playoff games. Check that — after stultifying NHL playoff games. Of late, often involving the Los Angeles Kings.
Never before have we hurried from the press box to ice level after a marvellously exciting game, one that reminds how lucky one is to make a living watching hockey of this quality, and heard a coach or player describe it as a “chess match.” When they use that term, what they really mean is, “boring.”
But after about 30 minutes of Sweden-Finland, we could see the “chess match” quote coming from a mile away. As one reader tweeted midway thru the game, “Anthems are over. Why are both teams still lined up at the blue lines?”
We were just trying to hang in at the end,” Alfredsson said. “We were still able to box them out.”
And there is the money quote: “Box them out.”
The AP's Larry Lage spoke with the principal players...
Niklas Kronwall was called for interference after hitting Selanne with an elbow late, one of several big checks from the hard-hitting defenseman.
"I'm trying to make it hard and eliminate as much space as possible because if you give him space, he's going to do some damage," Kronwall said.
Perhaps the pounding took its toll on the Finnish Flash.
Kronwall's penalty late in the first period gave Finland a 5-on-3 power play, but it couldn't capitalize. Selanne had the best opportunity to score during the two-man advantage, but he failed to get much of his stick on a shot that Lundqvist stopped easily.
"It was not an easy day for me," he acknowledged.
Captain Henrik Zetterberg pulled out of the Olympics after playing in one game because of a herniated disk. Henrik Sedin, Daniel's twin, and Johan Franzen didn't make the trip to Russia because of injuries.
"It's an unbelievable feeling being back in the final and playing for gold," Sweden forward Daniel Alfredsson said. "Except for our setback with Zetterberg. I felt so sad for him."
As did ESPN's Scott Burnside...
"We played close attention to the Russian-Finland game," Daniel Alfredsson said. "I thought Finland played outstanding and got Russia to where they wanted. We have one big goal today, and that was not to get caught in the neutral zone flat-footed and turning pucks over. I think we were able to do that by coming together with speed and getting the puck in deep. We got a lot of good forechecking going early and put them on their heels. It gave us confidence that we had throughout the game."
The Detroit Red Wing was part of the Swedes' gold-medal effort in Torino in 2006 and is hoping to have the same feeling here in Sochi on Sunday.
"It would mean a huge amount," Alfredsson said. "A lot. It's an unbelievable feeling being back in the final and playing for gold. Except for our setback with Zetterberg -- I felt so sad for him -- it's been an unbelievable tournament. We've had a lot of fun. Now we have to regroup and make sure we play our best game on Sunday."
NHL.com's Corey Masisak also penned a recap...
"We've been told that we're kind of up there but not really with Canada, Russia and the U.S.," Swedish forward Daniel Alfredsson said. "We got into this tournament and we've played pretty good but not great and everyone has looked for us to be better. [Friday] we came through with a huge game when we needed to and that's a great feeling. We definitely deserved to win [Friday] and we're going to enjoy this for a few hours and then we have one big test left. We want to make sure we go home with the gold and make Sunday's game our best yet."
The tournament began with Sweden short Vancouver Canucks center Henrik Sedin and Detroit Red Wings forward Johan Franzen. Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, who filled the same role on the Swedish team, was lost to injury during the preliminary round.
But this group, led by Lundqvist and Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, has reached the final. The Swedes haven't dominated at times but they also rarely have been threatened. Sweden has trailed twice in four games here for a total of six minutes, 45 seconds.
"I think [Friday] we played really, really well [defensively]," Karlsson said. "I think it won us the game [Friday]. We were really sound in the neutral zone and the defensive zone and took away their speed as much as we could. We really didn't give them any of the quality scoring chances that we've been giving up earlier in the tournament. Hank [Lundqvist] has been playing unbelievable for us as well. In that part we feel pretty confident."
Karlsson ripped a shot from the top of the offensive zone that ticked off goaltender Kari Lehtonen's right arm and under the crossbar. It was Karlsson's fourth goal of the tournament. He also has eight points, which tied him with Phil Kessel of the United States for the lead.
"I think he's really enjoying himself playing in the Olympics with great players," Alfredsson said. "It seems like he can blossom even more when he's surrounded by Sedin and [Nicklas] Backstrom and [Alexander] Steen. They make him look even better I think. It is amazing to me that he is 23 years old and playing as mature as he is. Everybody talks about him with making mistakes here and there, but it was an Olympic semifinal and I think he played outstanding. Smart, was in the right position most of the time, joined the rush when he needed. But I was really impressed with his game."
And Shawn P. Roarke focused on the 5-on-3 PK:
To that point the Swedes had carried the play a bit. They did not allow Finland a shot for the game's first four minutes and were enjoying a territorial advantage until Patrik Berglund took an offensive-zone roughing penalty at 12:38. Twenty-five seconds later Kronwall was forced into a tripping penalty and Finland had its first break of the game, a 95-second run of 5-on-3 hockey. However Finland could do nothing with the advantage.
"It was one of the bigger points of the game, no doubt," said Kronwall, who watched it all from the penalty box. "[Goalie Henrik Lundqvist] made an unbelievable save there. I thought the guys on the ice did an unbelievable job of keeping them on the outside, and when they did set up Hank [Lundqvist] was there for us. You gain momentum from that."
The guys of which Kronwall speaks were the main penalty killers, forward Marcus Krueger and defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya, all teammates with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Only now they were on the wider ice surface at Bolshoy Ice Dome and they were chasing a puck being passed around the zone by the Finns, who sensed blood in the water. Yet the three Blackhawks never flinched, maintaining a tight triangle formation to take away the primary scoring lanes.
Then Berglund came storming out of the box when his penalty expired to reinforce the three defenders. Kronwall joined the fray 25 seconds later. Crisis averted. Momentum gained.
"It was huge," Hjalmarsson said when asked about the 5-on-3. "I think we weathered the storm there. We had way too many penalty kills in the first period. I was pretty gassed still in the second period, actually, from that. So it took me a while to recover, but we’ve played really well 3-on-5 there. They maybe had one good chance. Other than that I think we shut them down really [well] and it's obviously an advantage for us to play in Chicago too. So we know exactly where to be out there."
Update #3: Here's a little more from the CBC's Mike Brophy:
With a trip to the gold medal on the line, both teams played as though it was an NHL pre-season game.
“It was more like a chess match than the intense battle we all expected it would be,” Sweden captain
Daniel Alfredsson told Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman. “I thought from the second period on we played very well.”
Go Canada Go: With a trip to the final guaranteed, Alfredsson said he would be cheering for Team Canada in the other semifinal.
“The two teams are very evenly matched,” Alfredsson said. “I will be pulling for Canada since I played there most of my NHL career.”
Given the importance of the game, it was startling to see the lack of emotion in the opening period. Alfredsson is right, it was almost like a game of chess, except with less physical contact. The one exception was a feud between the respective captains, Niklas Kronwall of Sweden and Teemu Selanne of Finland. They exchanged shoves, bumps and nasty words on a couple of occasions.
Update #AWW: According to Expressen's Carl Juborg, Daniel Alfredsson's necklace with his kids' names on it broke off during the game, and Gustav Nyquist helped him find it.
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