The Swedes remain undefeated at the top of Group A but endured its toughest test of the competition in this game. Slovakia became the first team to lead against Rikard Gronborg's defending champion and neutralised his powerful offence by allowing just nine shots on goal in the second and third periods after enduring a torrid start.
Gustav Nyquist, scorer of the second Swedish goal, said: "It was a good test for our team, I thought. We’re up 3-1. I think we were good enough to close this game out, but unfortunately they got two on us. Nice to get the win in overtime at least.
Sweden began with all the confidence you’d expect from a team unbeaten so far in the World Championship and playing the kind of hockey that has many backing it to win gold. It didn’t take long for chances to appear: Rakell went clean through on goal only to hit the bar, and soon after that he was denied by a Patrik Rybar pad save after Mattias Janmark found him at the back door.
So it was a shock when Slovakia, down 11-4 on the shot count at the time, snatched the lead. Michal Kristof got behind the net and played the puck back to Mario Grman on the blue line. His shot came in and Tomas Jurco had the redirect right in front of Magnus Hellberg to open the scoring in the 11th minute.
Finally the pressure paid off. John Klingberg thumped in a point shot with Johan Larsson and Christian Jaros grappling in front of the net. Everberg took advantage to deflect the puck past Rybar and put Sweden level. By the intermission, it was 2-1 Sweden. Mikael Backlund showed off some soccer skills as he battled with Jaros on the slot and set up Nyquist to score at the second attempt.
The middle frame saw Slovakia begin to get a grip on Sweden’s rampant offence and the outsider caused some alarms of its own at the other end. David Bondra drew a huge glove save from Hellberg early on when he fired in a stinging shot from the bottom of the circle. Sweden responded with a third goal as Kempe exchanged passes with Mikael Wikstrand on the left channel before a precision feed set up Jason de la Rose for his first World Championship goal.
But Slovakia would not lie down. Sekera drew Hellberg into no man’s land before racing around the back and popping out a feed that flashed an inch away from Jurco’s stick with the net wide open. And the reward came late in the frame with a short-handed goal. Marek Daloga started it off, robbing Rakell with a poke check on the blue line. Ladislav Nagy played a return pass to the d-man as he flew up the ice and Daloga put an assured finish onto the top shelf.
The Poprad line made its presence felt again early in the third, while the sometimes uneven ice in the Royal Arena also played a part as Hellberg made another eye-catching save. Bondra’s pass for David Buc bobbled awkwardly, Buc improvised fast to swat at the bouncing puck while it was airborne and Hellberg was at full stretch to make the glove save.
The Swede had no answer in the 47th minute, however, when Slovakia won a face-off in centre ice and Kristof surged forward with Nagy in support. The pass was precise, and Nagy’s one-time finish from just inside the circle was irresistible. Sweden, flawless in four games, was tied – and experiencing its toughest examination of the tournament so far.
"We just got a little more passive, not relaxed, but passive," reflected Backlund. "They took advantage of that. They were pretty aggressive in the third. There are a lot of momentum swings in a tournament like this and in the playoffs. So we’ve got to learn from this and move on."
Slovakia kept probing, sensing a surprise victory that could put it firmly in the shakedown for a place in the quarter-finals. Marek Hovorka might have tested Hellberg again when the Swedish defence got in a tangle while attempting to clear; the bobbling puck deceived the Slovak forward and his shot lacked control or conviction. There was no lack of conviction on Hovorka’s diagonal feed for Daloga though, and Sweden’s netminder was forced into another glove save to keep the scores level.
Into the closing minutes of the third period, and Marcel Hascak went close to winning it for Slovakia with a slaloming run through the Tre Kronor defence. The Swedes, by contrast, were struggling to get their offence moving and mustered a mere four shots in the third session as the game went into overtime. The extras were end-to-end, but when Daloga hauled down an opponent on his own blue line, Sweden finally found the edge to get over the line and claim its fifth win of the tournament.
For Sekera, it was a case of what might have been. "We need to play 60 minutes, not 20 or 30 or 40," he said. "That's our problem. If we can't play the full 60, it's going to be tough for us.
"Now we have to play even harder against Russia. They are a good skating team, they have a lot of players who can make plays and score goals. It'll be a hard game."
Sweden, meanwhile, prepares to face Switzerland tomorrow - and both teams are awaiting reinforcements from the NHL. Backlund is looking forward to Eklund, Forsberg and Arvidsson from Nashville adding to the Swedish roster.
"They are world-class players and great guys," he said. "I don’t think it’ll be too big of an adjustment for us. They’ll take some ice time from some guys, but we all have to buy into it. We’re all here to win gold."