QUEBEC CITY – Players on both teams agree on the key points of the first ever quarterfinal between Sweden and the Czech Republic. The teams know each other well, especially fresh off their battle on Sunday.
“We have to stay out of the penalty box,” says Nicklas Backstrom, Sweden’s number one center. “They have an excellent powerplay.”
“We know Sweden plays pretty defensively, and we have to be careful with that,” counters Tomas Kaberle, Czech captain and the team’s leading scorer.
Both are right, of course. Only the Americans have scored more goals (15) on powerplay than the Czechs (11). In other words, of the 20 goals the Czechs have scored in the tournament, 55 percent are powerplay goals. Their conversion rate, 35.48, is also second in the tournament.
The team’s first powerplay unit with Kaberle, Marek Zidlicky, Jaroslav Hlinka, Martin Erat, and Patrik Elias spells trouble for the opponents. The Czechs cycle the puck all the time, cutting through the opposing team’s box, looking for the chance to strike. They’ve showed several ways to score on the power play: on a straight attack, tip it into an empty net, deflection off of a shot from the blueline, or if that doesn’t work, get the rebound.
“Our powerplay hasn’t been bad but you can always get better. We can always add something new to it,” says Kaberle.
That said, the Swedes are no pushovers here. Their penalty killing is excellent, tied for second in the tournament (88 percent), they have enough firepower to beat any team, and the team’s disciplined play in the neutral zone will surely create problems for the Czechs.
Mattias Weinhandl and Tony Martensson have played on the same line all season, first in Linkoping in the Swedish Elite League and then in Tre Kronor, and they have proved that they can play with the best of them. Weinhandl is second in tournament scoring with ten points, Martensson has picked up nine points in six games.
All things being equal, it may all come down to goalkeeping where Sweden has the edge. Henrik Lundqvist has played three games with a goal against average of 2.33, having turned away 92.93 percent of the shots. Milan Hnlicka’s save percentage, on the other hand, is 87.00. His teammates naturally believe the 34-year-old veteran’s still got it.
“Hnilicka is a great goalie, he's been to the World Championship final before and he can do it again, for sure,” says Tomas Fleischmann.
Kenny Jonsson and Douglas Murray return to the Swedish lineup. Murray was suspended for one game and Jonsson missed two games due to headaches, but has practiced the last few days. The Swedes hope that Murray will get the Czech stars off balance with his hard hitting.
Patrik Elias, on the other hand, missed the Czech team’s practices yesterday, but is expected to play in the quarterfinal.