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Playing it tight

History says to expect a one-goal game with Swedes, Czechs

07-05-09
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Quebec City Quebec Canada
Last year, Mattias Weinhandl gave Sweden the win in OT. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHoF-IIHF Images.

BERNE - When Sweden and the Czech Republic meet in an IIHF World Championship quarterfinal, either relief or extreme disappointment lies in store. 2009 marks just the second time it's happened.

These two nations come to the World Championship each year with legitimate expectations of contending for gold. (In the 1960s and 70s, they were usually expected to scrap for second and third behind the Soviets.) Today, the pressure they face is perhaps exceeded only by that on the Canadians and Russians. But Thursday's second quarterfinal will send one of them home empty-handed.

It'll be a long summer full of what-ifs either for Jaromir Jagr, Ales Hemsky, and Patrik Elias, or for Kenny J├Ânsson, Kristian Huselius, and Linus Omark.

Based on history, the crucial elimination game at PostFinance Arena will likely emerge as a defensive duel that's decided by one goal, perhaps in extra time.

Take a look back at some noteworthy encounters between the two foes, including the pre-1993 era when the Czechs competed under the banner of Czechoslovakia.

1947: Czechoslovakia wins its first world title, while Sweden settles for silver. In this round-robin tournament in Prague, Sweden edges the hosts 2-1, but then shockingly falls to Austria by the same score, and the Austrians take bronze.

1977: In the first World Championship featuring North American NHLers, the Czechoslovakians capture their second straight gold and Sweden's the runner-up. The road to gold includes a 3-1 Czechoslovakian win over Tre Kronor in the round-robin and a 2-1 victory in the medal round.

1993: This year sees the first-ever meeting between Sweden and the Czech Republic under the IIHF's playoff system,  introduced in 1992. The semi-final clash is also the first game in World Championship history that requires overtime. Sweden (destined for silver) knocks off the Czechs (bound for bronze) 4-3 on Thomas Rundqvist's goal at 8:38.

1997: On May 8 in Helsinki, Tommy Salo (later named Best Goalie) earns the shutout as the Swedes beat the Czech Republic 1-0 to nail down a berth in the best-of-three finals. There, Sweden was edged by Canada, while the Czechs beat Russia for third place.

2001: In the only shootout of the '01 tournament, the Czechs prevail in the semi-finals by a final score of 3-2. During the game-winning shots competition, Martin Prochazka and Viktor Ujcik score for the Czechs on Tommy Salo, while Jorgen J├Ânsson is the lone Tre Kronor marksman versus Milan Hnilicka. The Swedes win bronze over the USA, and the Czechs take their third straight gold against Finland.

2005: The Czech Republic's Radek Dvorak scores at 4:43 of OT to knock off Sweden 3-2 in the semi-finals. The Czechs march to gold for the first time since 2001.

2006: The biggest single-game meeting between the two nations in IIHF history. And history is made in the 4-0 championship win for Tre Kronor, which becomes the first national team to capture both Olympic gold (Torino) and World Championship supremacy (Riga) in the same year.

2008: In the first quarterfinal meeting ever between Sweden and the Czech Republic, Mattias Weinhandl scores a messy OT winner at 3:15 while lying on his back. The Swedes ultimately lose to Finland in the bronze medal game.

LUCAS AYKROYD

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