MANNHEIM – Forget about neutrality. Sweden convincingly beat Switzerland 5-0 in their final Qualification Round game to clinch top spot in Group F. The Swedes will take on Denmark in Thursday's quarterfinals, while the Swiss face the host Germans.
This anticipated showdown simply turned into an exhibition of Swedish puck control, discipline, and patience. The tone was the polar opposite of the chippy Czech victory over Canada earlier. Apart from the maintaining of good civic order (both teams took two minors apiece), there was little to cheer about for Swiss fans among the 5,757 on hand at SAP Arena.
"The score might have looked easy, but it was a tough game for us," said Sweden's Victor Hedman. "We played well, and knew we had to come out strong. The Swiss have had a good tournament, but Markström had an unbelievable game in net, too. We scored on our chances, and that was the difference."
Sweden's Tony Mårtensson set the tone with a goal and two assists, while team scoring leader Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson added a goal and an assist.
The Swedes are fixtures in the final eight, never having missed out since the IIHF instituted the playoff system in 1992. In fact, Sweden has never finished lower than seventh (2000) in its modern history. Switzerland, gradually emerging as a hockey power, will make its sixth quarterfinals appearance since 2003.
Both teams dressed their backup goalies, and Sweden's Jacob Markström recorded his first-ever Worlds shutout over Switzerland's Tobias Stephan. Switzerland outshot Sweden 28-25.
"We had the chance to finish first for the first time in our history, but the Swedes came out really hard and pressured us," said Swiss defenceman Goran Bezina. "And it seemed like after that, we didn’t have the juice to battle in the corners."
Sweden has historically dominated Switzerland. The Swedes earned playoff wins over the Swiss en route to World Championship gold in 1992 and 1998, and beat them in the quarterfinals prior to claiming the 2006 Olympic title.
The Swiss, who posted surprising wins over the Czechs and Canada, need to rediscover their game quickly after dropping two straight, including a 3-2 loss to underdog Norway.
At 3:02, the Swedes drew first blood as Pääjärvi-Svensson finished off a sweet give-and-go play with Martensson, tapping the puck into a wide-open net. It was the highlight of a conservatively played first period, in which Sweden outshot Switzerland 8-4.
Just 48 seconds into the middle frame, Tre Kronor went up 2-0 when Johan Harju blasted a shot from the top of the left faceoff cricle over Stephan's glove.
"The first period was 1-0, and we felt like we had a chance, but after the second goal they played really solid defence and it was very tough to come back," said Bezina. "We didn’t have the energy to attack the net, and they got all the bounces."
The confident Swedes started to relax at this point. Controlling the puck, Linus Omark twice gestured with his stick behind the Swiss net as if he was about to attempt the “lacrosse goal” pioneered by University of Michigan player Mike Legg. However, he simply elected to make a centering pass.
At 3:40 of the second, Victor Hedman made it 3-0, deftly converting a cross-ice pass from Mårtensson over Stephan's glove. It was the 19-year-old Tampa Bay blueliner's first career World Championship goal.
The Swiss called a timeout to regroup, but the game had already slipped away from them. Seconds later, Sweden's Niklas Persson got a breakaway and backhanded the puck high off the post.
In the third period, the Swedes continued their dominance. Jonathan Ericsson hammered a shot off the end boards and Fredrik Pettersson smartly snared the rebound, tucking it home at 3:53 for a 4-0 lead. Less than a minute later, Martensson's centering pass deflected in off Swiss defenders for the fifth Swedish goal.
With under ten minutes to play, Markström made some of his best saves of the game during a Swiss power play with Mikael Backlund off for slashing.
"We knew they would never give up, even when it was 3-0, so we had to keep the high forecheck and make simple plays all the time," observed Hedman. "And now, we look forward to the Danish game."
Sweden is hoping to win this tournament for the first time since 2006, while Switzerland is gunning for its first World Championship medal since 1953's bronze.