For Sweden, this game was do or die. If the Tre Kronor were to slip to a fourth loss in five games, it might not have mathematically ended their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals. However, it would have left Johan Garpenlov’s team relying on other results to avoid breaking a run of top-eight finishes that dates way back to 1937.
Victory was secured and Sweden stays alive - but forward Adrian Kempe is not ready to say the job is done. "We still have to win our remaining games so we just have to focus on the next one and prepare for that," he said. "I think we'll come out with a win and go from there."
Fierce criticism in the Swedish media prior to today's game made it clear that defeat was unthinkable, and yet Britain’s first shot on goal produced the opening marker of the game. Sure, it was against the run of play, but that was scant consolation to the Swedes – and nor was the review that reversed an on-ice ‘no goal’ call.
The ruling seemed to surprise many the Swedish team but IIHF rule 150 on goalie interference states: "If an attacking player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with the goaltender, such contact will not be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact."
In this instance, the review showed that Connolly was knocked to the ice by his opponent and slid towards the Swedish goal. The officials decided that he could not halt his movement towards the goaltender and could not prevent the collision, therefore the collision was not caused by the attacker but was due to a foul by the Swedish defenceman and thus, the goal was good.
Stung, Sweden redoubled its efforts and tied the game on the power play in the 16th minute. This was a move straight from the coach’s playbook: a face-off win, the puck recycled to the point and two passes for Henrik Tommernes and Victor Olofsson to slice open the British defence and pick out the unmarked Marcus Sorensen in acres of space to rifle past Ben Bowns.
"That was a great moment, I've been waiting for that," said Sorensen of his first World Championship goal. How long? "Four games," he deadpanned.
And Tre Kronor finished the opening stanza strongly, with Bowns coming up big in another power play to deny Oscar Lindberg the go-ahead goal late in the frame.
"We possibly gave them a bit too much respect," said British defenceman Mark Garside. "We probably gave them a bit too much of the puck and we could have forechecked a bit harder. But they are an excellent hockey team, with players from the top leagues in Europe and the NHL."
It took time for Sweden to tighten the screws in the second period, with Britain defending carefully and keeping Johan Garpenlov’s team at arm’s length for long stages. But once the team began moving the puck around the GB zone more freely, the men in blue found themselves in the machine. A long spell of pass, shoot, recycle, repeat culminated in Lawrence Pilut cruising past Mike Hammond and setting up Jonathan Pudas for a one-timer that went over Bowns’ glove and gave the Swedes a 2-1 lead. That was a first international goal for Pudas.
"It was a tough start to the game," he said. "But we kept working and when we got the second goal and then the third, we felt good about our game.
"After they scored first we knew we had to calm it down a bit. We weren't playing well but we knew we could get back into it. They worked really hard, but it was a good win for us."
Britain found it increasingly difficult to get out of its zone and yet another turnover in centre ice enabled Mario Kempe to surge forward and laser a wrister between the legs of a defenceman and into the top corner. Like Sorensen and Pudas before him, that was a first of the tournament from the former Arizona Coyote.
Sweden’s domination continued – by the end of the second session it led the shot count 42-8 as Bowns had yet another busy game between the piping for Britain. And the third period saw more Swedish offence as the Tre Kronor enjoyed more than 70% puck possession at times and finished with 56 efforts at the hardworking Bowns. The reward came with seven minutes left as Mario Kempe got his second of the game, bursting through to convert the rebound from his own shot and make it 4-1.
Sweden goes to six points, jumping from last place to fourth in the Group A standings, although Friday evening’s game between Denmark and Belarus should see the winner move into a top-four spot. But the Tre Kronor are back in contention and, with two remaining games against ROC and Slovakia, qualification is in their own hands.
GB, meanwhile, found some positives despite the defeat. Matthew Myers, captain for the day on his 100th international appearance, said: "We actually played with Sweden for 20 minutes but then we showed them a bit of respect and their speed and skill took over. Next night, and the night after, we have to believe that we can go and skate for the full 60 against these teams. We can respect them, but not so much that they can just skate through the neutral zone."