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Sweden wins bronze battle

Tre Kronor gets first medal since '06, American drought continues

10-05-09
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PostFinance Arena Berne  Switzerland
Tre Kronor rejoices after capturing the bronze. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHoF-IIHF Images.

BERNE – It wasn't a “Miracle on Ice” for either team, but it was a medal for one of them. Sweden defeated the United States 4-2 to capture the bronze at PostFinance Arena on Sunday. Carl Gunnarsson scored the third-period winner.

Loui Eriksson, Tony Martensson, and Johnny Oduya also scored for Sweden. Jack Johnson and Joe Pavelski replied for the USA.

"We're really happy with this win after losing in the bronze medal game two years in a row," said Sweden's Rickard Wallin. "I was part of those teams. The way this ended shows we've done something good in this tournament."

Stefan Liv took over in goal for Sweden in lieu of Jonas Gustavsson, who left the tournament to be with his ailing mother. Liv also backstopped Tre Kronor in its 2002 bronze medal victory. Veteran Robert Esche got his eighth start in nine games for the USA. The Americans outshot Sweden 39-28.

With the win, Sweden increased its all-time World Championship record versus the United States to 38 wins, 14 losses, and five ties. After a pair of fourth-place finishes, it is Sweden's first medal at this tournament since capturing gold in Latvia 2006.

"We're happy we won the bronze," said Swedish coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson. "We played a US team that has an interesting style, but our power play worked well, and was the difference in this game."

The USA has not won a medal since 2004's bronze in the Czech Republic.

"Our team played their hearts out and deserved a better fate in this tournament," said American coach Ron Wilson.

Esche had to be sharp early on, stopping Johan Harju's quick, close-in release. At the other end, Jason Blake nearly dipsydoodled his way down the right side to an American goal, and Dustin Brown tried the same move on the left.

An unusual sight occurred 5:33 in when Sweden's Linus Omark was sent off for high-sticking, while Johnson accompanied him for continuing to play after his helmet had been knocked off.

Play bogged down as the period wore on. The crowd of 11,239 offered polite applause after good plays, exploding into whistles when the USA's David Backes (still the villain among local fans for the hit that injured Switzerland's Julien Sprunger) was penalized near the end of the period.

Johnson finally opened the scoring at 5:14 of the second when his power play blast from the center point beat Liv.

But the Swedes tied it at 13:24, also on the power play, when Tony Martensson centered it right in front to Eriksson, who snapped it past Esche's blocker.

The yellow-and-blue squad started to pour it on after that. At 15:57, Martensson made it 2-1 on a two-man advantage with Eriksson and Johnson clogging up Esche's crease.

Tempers flared and helmets littered the ice during a big scrum around the Swedish net with a minute left in the middle frame. As the PA blared the “Rocky” theme, a touch of emotion entered the game.

The Americans drew even at 2:15 of the third on a pretty goal. Pavelski took the puck end-to-end, cutting through Swedish defenders and lifting a shot from the left faceoff circle over a surprised Liv's glove.

With nine minutes left and Backes in the box, Gunnarson tallied the winner on a power play slapper from the blueline that went over Esche's left shoulder.

"These games are really funny to play, because obviously there is something to play for, but we're not in the finals," Wallin reflected. "One goal can put the game in one direction or another. So when we were behind, we were a little bit down, but our power play saved us."

Esche tried to keep his team in it, foiling Kristian Huselius when the slick Swedish attacker got behind the American defence.

But the Americans failed to capitalize with the man advantage after Mattias Weinhandl took an interference minor. The clock ticked down and the Swedish fans joyously chanted: "Sverige!"

Despite a late flurry, a pair of ill-advised cross-checking penalties to Ryan Suter and Dustin Brown in the Swedish end sealed things. Just before the final buzzer, Oduya popped one in the empty American net with Esche pulled for the extra attacker, and the extra flourish he added prompted some hard feelings.

Suter was named the USA's Player of the Game, and Liv was chosen for Sweden.

The USA lost both of its previous bronze medal meetings with Sweden (7-2 in 1994, 3-2 in 2001).

LUCAS AYKROYD

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