MANNHEIM – The Swedes have solid geographical and historical reasons to be happy they're facing Denmark in Thursday's early quarterfinal at SAP Arena. And it has nothing to do with Vikings or medieval Scandinavian kingdoms.
After Tre Kronor manhandled Switzerland 5-0 to take first place in Group F, defenceman Victor Hedman mentioned a simple benefit: “If we'd lost the game, we would have finished third and we would have had to go to Cologne. Now that we've finished first, we're going to play Denmark here.” No travel required.
So what about the history?
In the big picture, the Danes have never managed to beat Tre Kronor in any kind of hockey competition.
Since the Danes returned to the top division in 2003 after a 54-year absence, they've never managed to beat Sweden at an IIHF World Championship. Denmark lost 7-1 to the Swedes in 2003, 5-1 in 2004, 7-0 in 2005, 5-2 in 2007, and 8-1 in 2008.
Most recently, the blue-and-yellow boys thrashed their red-and-white rivals 10-3 in a pre-tournament exhibition on May 5 in Ängelholm, Sweden.
Even though the Danes have exceeded expectations so far at this tournament with big wins over Finland (4-1), the U.S. (2-1), and Slovakia (6-0), their record against Sweden doesn't inspire confidence.
But Danish centre Thor Dresler has a positive spin: “When the Americans beat the Russians in the 1980 'Miracle on Ice', they had also suffered a huge loss to the Russians before the Olympics. Just like we lost 10-3 to Sweden.”
Denmark has some other positives to feed off heading into Thursday.
Their Swedish coach, Per Bäckman, is familiar with the opponents they'll be facing. He's coached extensively in the Swedish Elitserien. Similarly, tons of Danish national team players have suited up in that league at one time or another.
The Danes enter their first-ever World Championship quarterfinal with the tournament's third-best power play, clicking at just over 26 percent. To beat Sweden, they will almost certainly need to get some goals with the man advantage. Five-on-five, as the Swiss found out, Sweden is tough to beat.
In addition to solid team defence, the Danes have been getting much needed offensive production out of their NHL-experienced skaters, like Ottawa's Peter Regin (2-5-7), St. Louis's Lars Eller (2-2-4), and Frans Nielsen of the New York Islanders (2-2-4).
In goal, expect Patrick Galbraith to get the start for Denmark. The 24-year-old Björklöven Umeå netminder has been outstanding to this point with a 1.50 GAA and 94.7 save percentage, plus a shutout versus Slovakia.
But will all this be enough to halt Sweden in its tracks?
Bringing a roster loaded with recent World Junior graduates hasn't held the Swedes back yet. Their top scorer and most dynamic forward is one of those kids, 19-year-old winger Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson, who has four goals and four assists so far. Even the loss of veteran forward Mattias Weinhandl, who scored in double digits at the last two Worlds, hasn't hurt as much as expected.
Different skaters have stepped up offensively every night, be it Tony Mårtensson against the Swiss or Jonas Andersson versus Canada. Yet the power play hasn't delivered much: two goals on 18 opportunities. That needs to improve now.
Asked if Sweden has more to give than it showed in the Swiss finale, forward Linus Omark replied: “Of course. You can always play better.”
The only blemish on Sweden's record to date is a 2-1 loss to the Czechs.
Top D-men Victor Hedman and Magnus Johansson have been effective all over the ice, playing more than 19 minutes a game and logging identical +4 plus-minus ratings.
In goal versus Denmark, Sweden will most likely go with Jonas Gustavsson of the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, don't completely rule out the possibility that Jacob Markström could get a shot after earning the goose egg versus Switzerland. Both netminders' numbers are sparkling, and either could capably step in here.
It would be a major surprise for Denmark to turn out the lights on Bengt-Åke Gustafsson's Tre Kronor coaching career in an elimination-game situation. But 2010 has been the year of the upset. “Right now, the Danes are playing at the top of their level,” Markström said. “We have to go out there and do our best, go for it 100 percent, or it'll be tough to win against Denmark.”
Referees for the 16:15 game in Mannheim will be Jari Levonen (Finland) and Daniel Piechazeck (Germany). The linesmen will be Ivan Dedioulia (Belarus) and Anton Semionov (Estonia).