SCOTIABANK PLACE – Sweden overcame another valiant performance by Slovakian goalie Jaroslav Janus, scoring four third-period goals to prevail 5-3 in the first semi-final and advance to Monday's gold medal game versus the winner of Canada-Russia.
Sweden – Slovakia 5-3 (0-1, 1-1, 4-1)
It is the second consecutive year that Sweden has made the final, a tribute to its revitalized junior program. In 2008, it lost 3-2 to Canada on Matt Halischuk's overtime goal.
"I'm really happy we won," said Swedish head coach Par Marts. "We were the favourites in this game, but I think the Slovaks got to play a lot the way they wanted. They played really well defensively. I don't think Alfred Hitchcock could have plotted this game better. I think it's really good for my guys to see that we have to do it together as a unit, not as a one-man show."
The surprising, underdog Slovaks will play for bronze in Monday's early game (15:30) at Scotiabank Place. Slovakia's only previous medal at this tournament was a bronze earned with a 5-4 win over Sweden in Winnipeg on January 5, 1999.
"We wanted to show we know how to play hockey and surprise everybody," said Slovakian head coach Stefan Mikes. "And I think we've achieved that."
Simon Hjalmarssson scored the eventual winner for Sweden with 8:18 left. Mikael Backlund added a pair of goals, and David Ullstrom and Oscar Moller also scored, while Mattias Tedenby had two assists. Tomas Tatar scored twice and Marek Mertel had a goal and two helpers for Slovakia.
Sweden outshot Slovakia 51-30 as netminder Jacob Markstrom recorded his fourth tournament win.
"We stopped playing for five minutes in the third period, and that decided the game," said Janus. "We got kind of tired, and they had two days off. And I think that made a difference."
In the first two periods, the Slovaks brimmed with confidence from their 5-3 quarter-final shocker against the U.S. They played with a combination of nothing-to-lose enthusiasm and positional smarts. They didn't let Sweden get its puck movement game in gear.
When Slovakian defenceman Juraj Valach took a double minor for high-sticking Nicklas Lasu, it was a perfect chance for Tre Kronor to open the scoring. But the Swedes spent too much time passing the puck around and the Slovaks broke up plays. At the end of the man advantage, Hjalmarsson whizzed one off Janus's left post.
The Swedes maintained pressure even without the man advantage, but Janus did whatever it took to keep the puck out, including grabbing the puck with his blocker hand, Dominik Hasek-style.
The Slovaks turned the tide as they began counterattacking late in the period. They jumped into a 1-0 lead with four seconds left in the first period when Mertel scored on the power play.
Glorious chances marked the early second period. If it wasn't Markstrom desperately diving to deny Mertel his second goal during a Slovak power play, it was Tedenby cutting around the Slovak defence and ringing a close-in attempt off the post. Janus made save after save during a Swedish power play.
Sweden finally broke through halfway through the game when Backlund grabbed the puck in the right faceoff circle and zapped a wrister past Janus's glove to make it 1-1.
But even though the Swedes carrried the play after that, the Slovaks quickly regained the lead with Moller in the penalty box. Tomas Tatar darted into the left faceoff circle and fired a high wrister past Markstrom to make it 2-1 with 4:13 left in the second.
The Swedes thought they had tied it when Nichlas Torp fired a howitzer from the center point that beat Janus through traffic at the horn, but a review showed time had already expired.
About two minutes into the third, Janus made another incredible save on star Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman, who was set up perfectly from behind the goal line by Joakim Andersson.
Magnus Svensson-Paajarvi drew a penalty on a rush to the net, and Sweden capitalized a minute later. With 12:56 left, Backlund scored his second of the game and fifth of the tournament with a tremendous slapper from the top of the right faceoff circle to make it 2-2.
David Ullstrom put Sweden up 3-2 with 11:08 left, shoveling the puck past Janus's right skate in a wild scrum around the goalie's crease.
"During the second intermission, we told ourselves we were only down by one goal," said Hedman. "We were looking forward to showing people that we could turn the game around."
At 11:42, Tedenby grabbed the puck in the neutral zone, spectacularly deked out multiple Slovak defenders, and fed a cross-ice pass to Hjalmarsson to give Sweden some breathing room at 4-2.
"We knew before the game that they were a good team defensively," said Tedenby. "Our plan was to keep the puck as much as possible and go hard to the net."
But the Slovaks didn't give up. Tatar cut the gap to 4-3 at 15:58 when he squeezed a shot from the slot past a diving Markstrom, with Janus pulled for the extra attacker.
With 1:17 left, Moller sealed the victory for Sweden with an empty-netter.
After surrendering just one power play marker in its four previous tournament games, Sweden gave up two versus Slovakia. That may be a note of concern heading into a gold medal game versus Canada or Russia, whose power plays were clicking at 60 percent and 35 percent respectively prior to their semi-final on January 3.
"Well, we already beat Russia, and it would be good to play Canada," said Hedman. "But really, I don't care."
"I think I'd prefer to play Canada," said Tedenby. "It would be nice to beat them this year after they beat last year."