Sweden temporarily took over first place in Group A with a 5-1 win over the Italians on Monday. Italy is demoted to Division I for 2015.
Gustav Nyquist scored twice, and Mattias Ekholm and Nicklas Danielsson contributed a single and an assist apiece for Sweden. Jimmie Ericsson also tallied, while Linus Klasen added four assists.
The Swedish power play was hot, clicking four times on the night.
"It's important that the power play is rolling, and I thought our penalty kill did a nice job as well," said Nyquist.
Sweden will likely finish second in the group, as the Canadians are favoured to defeat Norway in their round-robin closer. Still, you never know: 2014 has been a year of upsets.
Markus Gander replied for Italy, which finished 15th overall with just three points. The Italians haven’t managed to stay in the elite division for more than one year since 2006 to 2008.
"It was a frustrating game for us," said Italian head coach Tom Pokel. "A frustrating situation for us. All I can say is that our tank is empty."
Swedish goalie Joacim Eriksson got his first start after being ill earlier in the tournament. He outdueled Italian number one Daniel Bellissimo as Sweden outshot Italy 40-11. Remarkably and tellingly, the Swedes held Italy to just one shot in the last two periods.
Swedish coach Par Marts said afterwards he was happy the power play clicked and his team got through the game injury-free.
It hasn’t been a perfect tournament for the Swedes. The SHL-heavy squad struggled to put on the red light in 2-1 wins over underdogs Norway and France. They blew a 2-0 lead against Canada in a battle for top spot in Group A, which could wind up meaning a dangerous semi-final confrontation with the Russians.
But the defending champions are still in a good position heading into the elimination games. Since the start of the new millennium, Sweden has only lost twice in the quarter-finals (2000, 2012).
For Italy, Minsk will have to be taken as a learning experience. Apart from a 2-1 win over France and a hard-fought 2-0 loss to the Czechs, there haven’t been many highlight-reel moments to cherish.
Pokel’s desire to incorporate more Italian-born and trained players is commendable, but this team still has a lot of growing to do before it can compete with the best.
Pokel has bemoaned the mistakes his team has made with offensive zone turnovers, and that’s exactly how Tre Kronor opened the scoring just 48 seconds in. Klasen took away the puck with three Italians caught deep and fed it up to Nyquist, who raced in on Bellissimo and put it through his legs on the backhand.
"In all seven games we played, we have not scored the first goal in any of the games," Pokel noted.
The Italians didn’t roll over and die right away. Just past the halfway mark of the first, they made it 1-1 off the rush on a broken play. Daniel Tudin centered it to Luca Felicetti, who lost the puck but it bounced off Swedish defenceman Mattias Sjogren’s skate, enabling Gander to fire it into the open side past a surprised Eriksson.
Nyquist got another breakaway with the teams playing four a side, but he fired wide on the forehand.
At 16:32, Ekholm put Sweden up 2-0 on the power play with a rising centre-point drive that popped the water bottle off the net. Again, it was set up by Klasen.
"This is Linus's type of game," said Ekholm. "He gets to show his range of skills, and he is a man with a lot of strings on his bow when it comes to these things."
In the second period, the Swedes frequently hemmed Italy in with a savvy forecheck. Things were going Tre Kronor’s way. Shots on goal would favor them 15-1 in the middle frame.
Nyquist gave Sweden a three-goal lead with the man advantage at 14:24. Klasen stepped off the side boards and fed the puck in the middle to Nicklas Danielsson, who deftly relayed it to Nyquist, cruising in with perfect timing to bury it past Bellissimo’s right skate.
Danielsson made it 4-1 Sweden on another power play with 2:07 left in the period. Klasen set up Ekholm for a hard drive, and the rebound ricocheted off the Italian goalie to Danielsson in the slot. He made no mistake, going upstairs.
Ericsson rounded out the scoring with 4:05 left, poking in a loose puck behind Bellissimo after he tipped Magnus Nygren's shot from the blue line. Again, it was a power-play marker.
"We had a very good and strong penalty kill in this tournament, but that got torn apart tonight," said Pokel.
Looking forward to the next round, Ekholm said: "Of course, there are opponents that we'd rather face than others, but at the same time, we haven't faced any of those teams yet. We'll get the opponent we'll get and we'll try to scout them as best we can. We have waited for this for a while now, and we'll try to go out and play our best game."
Forward Joakim Lindstrom, who has sparked the Swedish attack with eight points, sat this game out with a pulled groin he suffered in the loss to Canada. The team hopes to have him back for the quarter-finals.
Italy's three best players of the tournament were honored: Daniel Bellissimo, Diego Kostner, and Daniel Sullivan.