STOCKHOLM – It might be an exaggeration to say that tonight’s 2-1 Sweden win over the Czech Republic was a must-win game, but had the hosts dropped to 0-2 to start the World Championship it would have been a decidedly negative development.
The last host nation to lose the first two games was Austria in 2005 and before that Switzerland in 1998. Tonight, both goalies stole the show in the exciting end-to-end game.
As it was, the Swedes came out with greater resolve than its opponents, and the sold-out crowd supported Tre Kronor to its full ability. That crowd included some of Sweden’s finest hockey royalty, namely Nicklas Lidström, Peter Forsberg, and Bengt-Åke Gustafsson.
Sweden (1-1) now gets a day off before playing Belarus on Monday while the Czechs (1-1) play Switzerland also on Monday.
"We wanted to make sure we got off to a good start," said Gabriel Landeskog. "Last night was a bump in the road, and everyone was a little pissed off today. We fed off that and played much better. We were hungrier today; we won the puck battles; we were better around our net."
"They had more jump in the first half of the game," admitted Czech forward Jiri Tlusty. "We have to be better prepared than we were. We took over in the second half, and that's what we have to take moving forward."
The only reason the game was only 1-0 for Sweden after the first period was Czech goalie Alexander Salak. He made one great save after another in a period in which the Swedes outshot the Czechs, 16-3.
However, the Swedish jump led to three power plays, and just as one of these expired the home side got the opening goal. Martin Thörnberg made a great pass behind the net to Jimmie Ericsson, and he quickly jammed the puck in the near post.
Salak’s best save of a busy period came on the only Czech man advantage, late in the period, when a giveaway gave Thörnberg a clear breakaway. Salak stood his ground and kicked out the shot.
"Our goalie played really well," Tlusty added. "He kept us in the game. That's why he's one of the best goalies in the Czech Republic."
Coach Alois Hadamczik said the right things in the dressing room because the Czechs came out flying and did everything to tie the game. This time, it was Jhonas Enroth in the Swedish net who shone during these minutes of pressure.
Yet, after weathering that storm, the Swedes went ahead 2-0 when Henrik Tallinder’s wrist shot from the point beat a screened Salak. The goal fired up the Czechs, and the rest of the period offered many great scoring chances and great saves.
The Czechs got back into the game with a goal at 12:40 on the power play when Jakub Voracek’s long shot was deftly redirected in front by Jiri Hulder under Enroth’s arm. Although both teams had chances to add to the scoreboard, the period ended as it had begun, the Swedes in front by a goal.
Pushing and shoving at the end of the second gave the Czechs a power play to start the third, on fresh ice, but the Swedes killed it off expertly. They then had a great chance to increase their lead when Tallinder sent Dick Axelsson in alone, but he was bested by another sensational save from Salak, his best of the night.
"It's tough playing a goalie when he's hot like that," said Landeskog, "but all you can do is put as many pucks as possible at him and get some traffic in front of him."
The game had a dramatic finish when Salak came to the bench and Sweden took a late power play, giving the Czechs a two-man advantage, but the Swedes clogged their end effectively and didn't surrender a decent scoring chance.