In a thrilling affair, Mattias Ekholm made up for a late game mistake to score the 3-2 game winner for Sweden.
For two periods, Sweden and Belarus were locked in a battle befitting the quarter-finals. After trading two goals apiece over the first forty minutes, Swedish defenceman Mattias Ekholm made up for a mistake that led to a penalty shot to come back 57 seconds later and score the third-period game winner for a 3-2 win.
The Swedes now move to the semi-finals.
The Belarusians can take pride knowing the World Championship attendance record was broken tonight. 582,032 fans have attended games, breaking the mark held by the Czech Republic at the 2004 World Championships. There are still four games to go for Belarus to add to the record.
Much had been made about the 2002 Winter Olympics quarter-finals upset 4-3 win by Belarus in defeating Sweden. It was a memo that was often repeated before the game. A more substantive point, central to the game, was the Belarus has never defeated Sweden in World Championship play going back to 1998 and would have to do so in order to advance on home soil and ice.
Defending champion Sweden made its first appearance at Minsk Arena having played all their previous games at Chizhovka Arena. The game started slow for Belarus and then picked up to where the third period featured end-to-end action and a thrill every few minutes.
"Sweden plays faster entertaining hockey and it was fun to be a part of tonight." Glan Hanlon said after the game. "We stressed to play attacking hockey and our boys did it tonight and I am very proud of them. I hope as the national program has turned the corner to play more like Sweden."
The teams played to a scoreless tie for most of the first period until Sweden found the net.
As time was winding down on a penalty to Nikolai Stasenko, Nicklas Danielsson scored. With Mattias Sjogren screening Kevin Lalande, Danielsson potted a rebound of a point shot. This was made possible, thanks to a pass by Linus Klasen. Klasen’s pass was shot from the blueline by Mattias Ekholm and tipped by a Belarusian player on goal. Lalande made the save but a big rebound found Danielsson’s stick, who was able to tuck it home.
Later, Joel Lundqvist took a pass from Danielsson and hit the post. Then not long after, Gustav Nyquist accepted a lead pass and went wide with a backhand. In all, Sweden comfortably controlled the period despite Belarus being buoyed by fan support as they have been throughout the tournament. Oscar Moller had four of Sweden’s 10 shots in the period while Belarus managed only three.
In the period, Belarus would play with a man down three times.
The second period was the complete opposite from the first for Belarus. Whereas they only managed three shots in the first, they had more than that midway through the second.
"I think we gave Sweden too much respect in the first." Platt said. "We settled down and realized that they weren't too far ahead of us in terms of their overall level. We responded extremely well there in the second period."
The spark began with a penalty called in the first 21 seconds on Sweden. Belarus had one good shot when Dmitri Graborenko sent a slapper on Anders Nilsson that he was able to square himself for and save. But it woke the crowd up and catalyzed the team.
"The crowd's been with us the whole tournament." Kevin Lalande marveled of the crowd. "They made it a special place to play. They gave us a boost when we needed it, and I can't put into words how much we as a group have appreciated their support."
Sweden would have a chance in front but then a loose puck was grabbed at the Belarusian blue line by captain Alexei Kalyuzhny who used his speed to turn it into a two-on-one with Geoff Platt.
Kalyuzhny gained the offensive zone, faked a shot and sent a pass to Platt who popped it home. Not only was Platt fired up after scoring the goal, Belarus was re-energized and the crowd went absolutely wild. You could barely hear yourself think.
Head coach Glen Hanlon was ever calm but no doubt filled with emotion.
Belarus was now gaining momentum. Sergei Kostitsyn made a move from behind the net but could not tee up in a crowd of players in front. Alexander Kitarov then had a shot placed for the far corner that Nilsson made a fully extended glove save to gobble up.
A fortunate bounce and the foresight to come back the other way gave Belarus its first lead of the game. Dick Axelsson raced in on a break and displayed good hands in confounding Lalande. With the goaltender beat, Axelsson set a shot on goal that hit the right post and popped back in play.
Belarus came back the other way Platt sent a shot at a far angle to the left of the Swedish net that was tipped in front by Alexei Yefimenko for a goal.
Belarus would not stop pressing for more, keeping the action in the Swedish end of the ice.
Once again Sweden would capitalize on the power play. When Kitarov was sent off for hooking, the Swedes made fast work on the power play as Jimmie Ericsson scored. A Magnus Nygren shot was tipped in front by Ericsson. It was Sweden’s second goal on the power play in the game.
The third period featured both teams matching each other with offensive opportunities. The goalies were equally sharp in managing to keep their teams in the game. Sergei Kostitsyn was particularly in good form with several shots and quality scoring chances.
With 8:19 remaining, Ekholm’s breakout pass was intercepted by Kalyuzhny who skated in on goal but was obstructed by Ekholm. A penalty shot was awarded. Kalyuzhny started slow and moved in on net with a meek shot that went softly off Nilsson’s stick.
"That save is a game-changing save." Gustav Nyquist said. "Our goalie felt confident that he would save that shot, and when he did and we came back and scored two shifts later."
If the play put Ekholm in Per Marts doghouse, he redeemed himself 57 seconds later when he scored an unassisted goal, skating around the net and wrapping around a shot that found its way in.
It was a gallant effort by Belarus and they played some of their best World Championship hockey to date.
Sweden will now play Russia in the semi-finals hoping to advance to the gold medal game again.
"They have those two superstars of course, but also a great team." Nyquist said of Russia. "But we're good too and have shown what we can do. It'll be a tight game. The results in the quarter-finals today goes to show that any team of the four remaining can win this at the end."