"We played to our strength in the third. We didn't panic," said fellow defenceman Mattias Ekholm. "We kept going. In the end, that paid dividends."
Saturday night’s clash in Bratislava was a repeat of last year’s final and it served up a game worthy of the biggest stage. Both teams had plenty at stake, even in the group phase. For Switzerland, it was a chance to extend an unbeaten run to five games as well as extract a measure of revenge for last year’s shoot-out defeat in Copenhagen. For Sweden, meanwhile, three straight wins had restored belief after losing to the Czechs in the opening game here. However, the Swiss represented a step up in the quality of opposition – this would be a game that would underline whether the defending champion was ready to mix it with those teams expecting to have a big say in the medal conversation.
"I think in previous years, Switzerland maybe haven't had the personnel to be battling with the top teams," Ekholm added. "But now you look at it and they have top guys in the NHL. You have Josi, you have Fiala, you have Hischier, you have Andrighetto and Niederreiter. You can name them all, right? So put those players together and it's going to be a good team.
"They just keep getting better and we've got to try to keep up with that. Tonight, still, we managed to do that. I think the experience of playing in finals and winning the last two years made it a calm presence. Everyone knew that if we just keep playing, it's going to turn out good."
The Swedes got an early warning when a Lukas Frick intercept in centre ice set up Simon Moser for a run to the net, where Henrik Lundqvist said no. But it wasn’t long before another break-out saw Gaetan Haas surge up the ice before feeding Sven Andrighetto. This time the Swiss did the business: the Colorado forward found the net through Lundqvist’s five-hole.
Sweden tried to hit back immediately, and Alexander Wennberg should have tied the scores within seconds. Nylander’s feed presented Wennberg with a chance to shoot at the open corner of Berra’s net but he could only find the side netting with the goal at his mercy. The action was breathless and continued in similar vein throughout the opening frame. But just as Switzerland thought it was going to take a lead into the intermission, Tre Kronor tied the game. Simon Moser sat for hooking and it took just three seconds for Wennberg to find the net. The forward won the face-off then took up a central position. John Klingberg’s slap shot brushed off Wennberg’s leg and the deflection took the puck away from Berra.
Nylander's three-point haul on the night lifted him to the top of the scoring charts and his line-mate Hornqvist spoke like a man enjoying his hockey after the game. "I think our line is playing really well right now," he said. "We let William have the puck a lot, I try to go to the net and Alexander tries to make things happen with William. We’re creating some offence, some scoring chances. We have to keep building and getting better every day."
It wasn't just Nylander's line-mates who were enjoying his game. "He's fantastic to see," added Lander. "Sometimes he sees passes that you only see on the replay. So it's a lot of fun to be on the bench, so close, watching him. But guys are working hard for him too, and he makes great plays. He's just got to keep that going and see how far that will take us."
Switzerland was still dangerous on the breakaway and when Roman Josi collected the puck on his own goal line he immediately set off for goal. His charge took him to the top of the Swedish circle, where Ekman-Larsson did enough to halt his advance. But the Tre Kronor’s captain could not prevent the puck from bouncing kindly into the path of Joel Genazzi, who smashed home a one-timer from between the hash marks to tie the scores.
It wasn’t just the Swiss D that could get forward effectively, though. Just 30 seconds later Erik Gustafsson showed that he’s got an eye for goal as well. On his own blue line, he sprayed a pass left for Nylander. Switzerland didn’t properly track Gustafsson’s progress up the ice and when the time came, he was on hand to convert Nylander's return pass. The Swedes were back in front.
"They always scored right away when we scored," lamented Swiss forward Kevin Fiala. "We have to be better when we score, eliminate those chances. That was tough to swallow."
There was more incident to come, with Lundqvist just doing enough to turn a Philipp Kurashev effort onto the post and Noah Rod forcing a save out of the Rangers goalie as the second period came to an end.
Lundqvist was busy at the start of the third as well, making a double save to thwart Haas as the Swiss looked to force the tempo in their quest for an equalizer. And Sweden had to face more pressure when Anton Lander was called for cross-checking. The Swiss took the full two minutes of the power play, but just as Lander was returning to the ice it tied that game at 3-3. Haas was the scorer, wiring a devastating wrist shot from the top of the right-hand circle and finding the tightest of gaps between two defencemen to hit the gap in the top corner.
"I thought it was a fun game to play," said Lander of this incident-packed affair. "They're really good skaters and highly skilled players. They can create a lot of things from what looks like nothing. Suddenly they've got a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1. And we took a little bit too many penalties, gave them too many opportunities. But overall, it was a fun game to play. Good crowd. The fans of both teams made it fun to play."
Then came Ekman-Larsson’s game-winning intervention, but Switzerland did not give up. Fiala thudded a shot into Lundqvist’s pads, Tristan Schwerey got in the thick of an almighty scramble in front of the net and, with Berra off the ice, a deflected Raphel Diaz shot bobbled wide of the mark. For Fiala, although defeat was hard to take, there was some good news from the evening.
"We scored three goals on a great defensive team," he said. "We had chances to tie the game again, to lead, whatever. We still have some gas left to play Russia tomorrow and I know we will do everything to win that."