Mikael Backlund scored a pair of first-period goals to lead Sweden to a 3-0 victory over Denmark in its tournament opener on Saturday at Chizhovka Arena.
"Scoring twice was a good feeling," said Backlund. "Going into the first game, you are always a bit nervous."
It was a solid start for the defending champions. They ended the “home-ice curse” of the IIHF Ice Hockez World Championship last year by winning gold in Stockholm. The previous host team to have triumphed was the Soviet Union in Moscow in 1986.
Gustav Nyquist, one of just two 2014 Olympians on this roster, had the other Swedish goal.
This year, the SHL-heavy Swedish roster looks fairly workmanlike. They have no NHL stars on par with the Sedin twins, whose power-play magic was the key to the 2013 title. But regardless, they got the right result against the “little brother” Danes.
"They hold on to the puck very well," said Danish forward Mikkel Boedker. "Obviously you never want to get down 2-0. When they make it 3-0, it makes it almost impossible to come back when they have the puck that much."
Swedish goalie Anders Nilsson made 21 saves for the shutout in his World Championship debut. Denmark’s Patrick Galbraith had 31 saves.
"The Danes came out hard the first 10 minutes, and I got to make a few saves to get into it," said Nilsson. "After that we took over a little bit."
As the first period wore on, Tre Kronor controlled the play more and more.
Sweden initially thought it had opened the scoring at 3:33. The Danes turned the puck over in their own zone, and Backlund got it all alone in front of the net, whacking it through Galbraith’s pads. The play was video-reviewed and it was ruled the puck stopped short of the goal line.
At 12:19, the veteran of 246 NHL games with the Calgary Flames scored – this time for real. Parked next to the crease, Backlund pivoted to corral a Mattias Ekholm rebound off the rush and banged it in off a Danish defender.
With under two minutes left in the opening frame, Nilsson slid across to make a scintillating arm save on Julian Jakobsen, who had snatched the puck out of a goalmouth scramble.
At 19:22, Backlund made it 2-0, going to the front of the net with perfect timing to tip in a low, hard Joakim Lindstrom drive.
"Lindstrom waited for me and made a really good shot-pass," said Backlund. "It was just for me to keep my stick on the ice."
The Danes pressed to get on the board during a mid-second period power play with Simon Hjalmarsson off for tripping. But despite mustering some good puck possession, they couldn’t solve the disciplined Swedish defenders.
Galbraith did his best to keep his side’s hopes alive, gloving down a Lindstrom wrister from the slot and foiling Mattias Sjogren when he split the Danish defence.
In the third period, Nyquist extended Sweden's lead to 3-0 at 8:13. He picked off a turnover at the Danish blueline, raced in down the right side, outwaited sprawling defenceman Philip Larsen, and then deftly beat Galbraith high to the glove side.
"Getting a win is always nice, but give us a few more practices and a few more games, and we will be better," said Nyquist.
With patience and positioning, the Swedes ran out the clock to preserve Nilsson's goose egg. Last year's official theme song, The Poodles' "En For All For En" blasted from the loudspeakers as the blue-and-yellow team congratulated its netminder.
"It’s the first game, and the first game is out of the way now," said Boedker. "We’ve got our legs under us, and we’ve got to play a little bit more aggressively. We’ve got to take this to heart. It’s not good enough to lose 3-0."
The head-to-head record between these Scandinavian neighbors is lopsided. This was Sweden’s ninth straight win since Denmark’s return to the elite division in 2003.
The Danes face Norway next on Sunday, while Sweden will face the Czech Republic.