Sweden has surrendered two goals, but hasn't lost a single point so far. Coach Rikard Gronborg's team pulled off a 3-2 victory over the Czech Republic on Sunday to stay perfect in Copenhagen.
"I thought we played well," said Swedish captain Mikael Backlund. "We made it a little closer than we had to. I think we played a solid game. They were good on the power play and we knew that before the game. But it was a big win for us, for sure."
The top Swedish line was full value for their second consecutive win. Rickard Rakell led the way with a goal and two assists, while Mattias Janmark had a goal and an assist and Mika Zibanejad added a single for the defending World Champions.
"They’ve been playing unbelievable," said Backlund. "It’s great to see. I’m very happy for them to get to score some big goals and to be carrying us so far. Hopefully the rest of us can keep working hard and chip in too."
Filip Hronek and Tomas Hyka replied for the Czechs, who couldn't build on their overtime victory over the rival Slovaks on Saturday. This was a modestly chippy affair with plenty of pushing and shoving after the whistles.
It wasn’t the goaltending matchup that many would have anticipated prior to this tournament. Magnus Hellberg, the 27-year-old Kunlun Red Star netminder fresh off a 5-0 shutout over Belarus in his Worlds debut, returned between the pipes for Tre Kronor in lieu of the more NHL-experienced Anders Nilsson.
At the other end, David Rittich, wearing Dominik Hasek’s old #39 (in lieu of the Patrick Roy-style #33 he had with the Calgary Flames this year), got his first Worlds opportunity at age 25, while Pavel Francouz sat on the bench. Both goalies were solid as Sweden outshot the Czechs 27-25.
What would the Czechs have left in the tank? That was the big question after coach Josef Jandac’s boys tied Slovakia with 10 seconds left in regulation and then won their opener 3-2 on Dmitrij Jaskin’s spectacular overtime foray. As it turned out, the Czechs didn’t have quite enough – especially with gifted 19-year-old forward Martin Necas sidelined after crashing into the boards during the extra session against Slovakia. But they never gave up.
"That's our mindset," said the Czech Republic's Dominik Kubalik. "Things don't always go the way we want, but we'll keep on fighting. We did all we can=, but I think Sweden played great especially in the third period. We had a couple of chances, but we didn't get that luck when we needed it."
In front of a buoyant sellout crowd of 12,490, Tre Kronor got rolling quickly. Rakell opened the scoring at 4:49 on the rush, accepting Janmark’s cross-ice pass in the left faceoff circle and zinging it over Rittich’s glove.
Sweden got the first power play at 6:42 after defenceman David Moravcik cross-checked SHL MVP Elias Pettersson to the ice at the side of the Czech net. Just 31 seconds later, it was 2-0 as Janmark pushed home a rebound in a goalmouth scrum. The 25-year-old Stockholm native recently completed his best NHL season with the Dallas Stars (19-15-34). He has two points in each of Sweden’s games so far.
Midway through the second period, Janmark nearly scored again on the rush when Zibanejad located him in the slot with a lovely saucer pass.
Penalties piled up and the Czechs cut the deficit to 2-1 on a brief 5-on-3 man advantage. Roman Cervenka fed Hronek at the centre point and his rising drive zoomed past Hellberg through traffic at 13:10. It was the first career World Championship goal for the 2017 Czech World Junior captain.
However, the Swedes killed the remaining minor to Hampus Lindholm and that proved key. They couldn’t, however, make it a two-goal lead during Tomas Hyka’s subsequent tripping minor, even though Czech penalty-killer Michal Repik broke his stick and was stranded out there for a long stretch.
"I think we could have put this game away earlier if we played the right way, but we got the win and that's all that matters," Lindholm said.
At 3:11 of the third, Zibanejad put Sweden up 3-1. From the side boards, Rakell gave him a nice pass and he cruised in coolly before knifing a high backhander by Rittich for the eventual winner. Rakell has scored three points in each game so far.
" All three have played together at some time in the juniors back home in Sweden so they know each other really well," said John Klingberg of the top line. "You can see Rakell has so much skill, Mika as well, and maybe Janmark has a bit of a different skill set, but he's really fast and gets that line going."
The grumpy vibes persisted as the teams took back-to-back coincidental minors. With 10 minutes to go, Radek Faksa nearly dangled the puck through Hellberg, but the Swedish goalie sat down to smother it.
The Czechs got another opportunity to get back in the game when Magnus Paajarvi was called for tripping Libor Sulak with under five minutes to play, and they took advantage. Faksa sent a rolling puck to Hyka and his howitzer eluded the Swedish goalie to make it 3-2 at 15:46. But that was as close as they'd get, despite pulling Rittich for the sixth attacker.
Of the atmosphere, Klingberg said; "The fans are going to be huge for us during the tournament. To have this support is really big for us. It's close to home and it's huge for us."
Rittich and Rakell received their Player of the Game awards from Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark.
Sweden's next game is versus France on Monday, while the Czechs take on the Swiss on Tuesday.
"Our power play wasn’t good enough and neither was our PK," Backlund noted. "Hopefully special teams overall are better tomorrow."