MANNHEIM – Two hours before puck drop, the Danes were optimistically blasting “We Can Work It Out” by the Beatles in their dressing room. Unfortunately, that prediction didn't come true for the underdog Scandinavian nation in its quarterfinal versus Sweden.
With a solid 4-2 quarterfinal victory over Denmark, Sweden moved on to Saturday's semi-finals versus the Czech Republic in Cologne. This marks Sweden's tenth straight year in the final four.
"We were the better team and we knew it," said Tre Kronor scoring leader Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson. "We never gave them enough space to execute."
While the final outcome was predictable, the Danes could at least take pride in posting their lowest margin of defeat ever against Sweden at this tournament. Their previous best was a 5-2 loss in 2007.
"We just met a better team today," said Denmark's Mads Bodker. "We tried to compete, and it was exciting right till the end. We gave them a fight."
Marcus Nilson, Jonas Andersson, Rickard Wallin and Linus Omark scored for Sweden, and Magnus Johansson had a pair of assists. Jesper Damgaard and Morten Madsen replied for Denmark.
"We knew it was a do-or-die game in the quarter-finals, and if we’re going to win gold, we have to win this one," said Nilson. "These are the games you long to play. This is where the tournament starts."
Swedish starting goalie Jonas Gustavsson got the win over Denmark's Patrick Galbraith. Sweden outshot Denmark 39-29.
Sweden now looks ahead. It beat the Czech Republic in the 2006 finals, and has also defeated that nation in elimination play at each of the last two Worlds (3-2 in OT in the 2008 quarterfinals, 3-1 in the 2009 quarterfinals). However, the last time the Czechs met Sweden in the semis, they won 3-2 in OT and went on to their last IIHF gold medal in Austria 2005.
Denmark, which made its first-ever quarter-final appearance before 3,487 fans at SAP Arena, has never defeated Sweden in an international tournament. The Danes' previous best finish at an IIHF World Championship was tenth (Moscow 2007). 2010 is a proud moment for the Danish program.
Although the opening minutes of thearly quarterfinal passed uneventfully, the Swedes patiently and gradually ratcheted up the pressure around Denmark's net. The Danes had to hang back under Swedish forechecking pressure, and the Swedes often used their size and skill to monopolize the puck down low. At times, it looked like a Tre Kronor power play even when it wasn't.
Inevitably, though, the Swedes did get a power play, and they took full advantage. Magnus Johansson found Marcus Nilson to the right of Galbraith's cage with a perfect pass, and Nilson slid the puck into the open side to make it 1-0 at 14:58 of the first period.
"It was good to get the first goal," said Nilson. "We knew we had a psychological advantage. When we scored, I think they sensed that a little bit."
The Danes couldn't fool Gustavsson on their own subsequent man advantage starting less than a minute later, with Christian Backman nabbed for hooking. They were blanked again when Victor Hedman was sent off for slashing in the first minute of the second period.
Denmark's failure to capitalize 5-on-4 would prove fatal.
Galbraith held his ground when Andreas Engqvist got a golden chance from the slot just over four minutes into the second period. But he simply missed Jonas Andersson's quick release when the Swedish forward burst down right wing and beat him stick side at 7:21.
It was Andersson's fourth goal of the tournament, tying him for the team lead with Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson. The 29-year-old from Dynamo Minsk is shining in his maiden World Championship voyage.
Sweden extended its lead to 3-0 at 12:29 with a nice shorthanded goal when Rickard Wallin busted to the net and got a centering pass from Engqvist, putting it over Galbraith's glove.
Just 49 seconds later, the Danes fought back to make it 3-1 when captain Jesper Damgaard stepped into a slapshot from the right faceoff circle, overpowering Gustavsson on the short side.
The Swedes gave Denmark very little in the third, and nearly stretched their lead to three goals with under eight minutes left when Magnus Johansson pinched in and forced Galbraith to make a challenging glove stop.
On the power play with 6:43 remaining, Linus Omark put Sweden up 4-1 with a perfect shot inside Galbraith's right post, converting a cross-ice pass from Niklas Persson.
"The difference was their power play," said Bodker. "They scored some goals on it and overall they had the better team."
The Danes, at this point, had no more chance of coming back than a jar of pickled herring does of swimming wild and free in the Baltic Sea.
Morten Madsen added a power play marker on a great slapshot to cut the deficit to 4-2 with 2:25 left, and then the Danes pulled Galbraith for the extra attacker. They got off a few attempts, but it wasn't enough.
Denmark's three best players of the tournament were honoured afterwards: Peter Regin, Frans Nielsen, and Patrick Galbraith.