SOCHI -- The hockey fairy tale is over because Cinderella’s toes eventually are going to hurt after stomping around in those stiletto heels.
Everyone’s second favorite team in the Olympic hockey tournament had to play its second game in 24 hours after a qualification win that had nudged it into an improbable quarterfinal. Well, good luck with that. With bags under the eyes and leaden legs, plucky Slovenia lost 5-0 to Team Sweden, a bittersweet but inevitable farewell at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.
In the junior varsity quarterfinal that preceded the match between Finland and Russia at the big rink, Sweden played a patient, buttoned-down game against an opponent that has a pool of 148 registered players -- plus Anze Kopitar. The Swedes did nothing remarkable or fancy, unless you count goalie Henrik Lundqvist heading away a rising shot from the left point with eight minutes to go. With Slovenia trailing by two goals, Daniel Sedin and Loui Ericksson combined for a goal off the cycle 102 seconds into the third period to make it pumpkin time. The eventual 5-0 win merely reinforced the notion that the Swedes usually coalesce in big tournaments.
“We wanted to win this game without expending much energy,” said Team Sweden coach Par Marts. “I know the next game we will play better because everyone will pay the price for winning.”
That opponent, according to Marts, will be Russia.
When asked in the post-match press conference which team he thought would win the game between Russia and Finland, he did not equivocate, backing the locals and not his Scandinavian archrivals. This was either honest or insanity, especially if the Finns prevail.
What is Finnish for “bulletin board material?”
If Sweden can forge its way to another Olympic gold medal -- the 2006 triumph in Turin was the apex of Tre Kronor’s Golden Generation -- it likely will be on the back of goaltending and the power play. Lundqvist has not been tested as severely as Team USA’s Jonathan Quick or Finland’s Tuukka Rask, but he has been almost impeccable. And with the occasionally dazzling Erik Karlsson running the power play, Sweden can create opportunities against any team. Indeed, Alexander Steen cashed Sweden’s first goal on the man advantage with a minute to go in the first period, tucking in a point-blank shot after Daniel Alfredsson’s drive had caromed off the end boards.
Sweden is now six-for-16 on the power play.
“We have some great players out there (on the power play) who can shoot the puck and make things happen,” Alfredsson said. “We seem to be able to use it to find some openings and score some big goals. Hopefully that can continue. It could be a big part of our success.”
“Today was a step in the right direction,” said Swede defenseman Niklas Kronwall. “We played with a little more energy. A team with more NHL guys will be more north-south than the previous few games.”