"We had a tough start but we've come back from two losses to get two wins," said Swedish captain Michelle Lowenheilm. "I'm very proud of this team and the way we've been able to turn it around."
Not even the prospect of a daunting clash with the free-scoring Canadians could faze the Swedes now. "Hey, let's do it! offered Lowenheilm.
However, Denmark can take a great deal for its first Olympic appearance. There was a memorable victory over Czechia to keep it in contention until the final game and today's loss was only sealed in the dying seconds when Sweden potted an empty net goal.
"It's a weird feeling right now," said goalie Cassandra Repstock-Romme. "On the one hand, we're so disappointed that we didn't get this win and we're not going to the quarter-finals. But on the other hand, I'm so honoured to be on this team and so proud to be a part of this.
"I think we played amazing hockey in the last two games and we're really showing the world that Denmark is not just here to watch the Olympics but to play to win."
It was a Scandinavian showdown to determine third place in Group B. Any kind of win would be good enough for Sweden, while Denmark needed to prevail inside 60 minutes to prolong its Games debut. China still had an interest; if Denmark won in overtime, the Dragons would cling on to third.
Sweden belatedly revived its Olympic campaign with victory over the host nation yesterday and looked to build on that here. And the bare stats from the first period might suggest that the Damkronorna did exactly that. After just three minutes, the Swedes got in front when Denmark coughed up the puck in its own zone and Emma Nordin pounced for her first goal of the tournament.
"We gave up the first goal in all the other games and it put us in a tough spot, so it was good to get that one," Nordin said. "It wasn't great all the time but this was such a team effort and we really fought our way through the game and found a way to win."
However, it was hardly a dominant start from the team in yellow. Denmark had three power plays in the first 10 minutes and carved out a big chance on the first of them when Michelle Weis forced Emma Soderberg into an important save to keep the scoreboard blank. Sweden, though, came into the game with a perfect record on the penalty kill and again kept things tight. Denmark struggled to make a big impression, but there was one opportunity when Josefine Jakobsen’s shot got away from Soderberg, only for Josefine Persson’s attempt to squirt wide on the follow up.
"I think we did a pretty good job defensively," said Soderberg. "It was a calmer game for me. In the first period it was all the penalties, I think we had four of them, so that automatically puts pressure on you. But we handled those PKs really well and got momentum from that."
Late in the opening frame, Sweden came close to increasing its lead when captain Lowenhielm stormed out of the corner and had Repstock-Romme at full stretch to make a pad save. The Swede then dinged the rebound against the post. But Denmark finished strongly, with two good chances for Persson before the first intermission.
The second period remained highly watchable, with both teams having presentable chances. Denmark missed an opportunity to tie it up when Silke Glud struggled to control a bouncing puck and flashed a shot over an open net. At the other end, Nordin was denied her second of the night in a one-on-one.
The tying goal arrived in the 35th minute thanks to good work from Lilli Friis-Hansen behind the net. She got the puck out to Jakobsen who fired a diagonal shot that Julie Oksbjerg steered home at the back door. That goal was greeted with delight not just by Denmark, but also by the Chinese fans in the Wukesong Arena, hoping for a Danish overtime success.
It wasn’t long before Sweden regained its lead, though. A power play chance was converted in just eight seconds as the Swedes won the face-off and moved the puck nimbly around the zone for Lisa Johansson to fire home an emphatic point shot as Felizia Wikner-Zienkiewicz screened Repstock-Romme.
Sweden looked to extend its advantage at the start of the third. A neatly-worked break by Lowenheilm and Lina Ljungblom almost picked its way through the Danish defence, then Josefin Bouveng saw the ice open up in front of her but her shot was gobbled up by Repstock-Romme’s glove.
However, it remained a one-goal game until the bitter end, with Denmark pulling its keeper with more than three minutes on the clock. The first attempt to conjure an extra skater was frustrated by a linesman wrongly calling too many players, but later the Danes were able to play 6-on-4 after Ebba Berglund was cited for an illegal hit.
"I think my heart almost stopped when we got the penalty too," Nordin added. "But we've been fighting so much in this tournament and we've had a tough couple of years so we just said 'OK, this is our game!'."
That defiance was rewarded. An interference call on Weis eased some of the pressure on Sweden and even though Soderberg faced a frantic finish for the second game in a row, Berglund came out of the box to put the puck in the empty net and seal the Swedish win.
"It feels really good," concluded Soderberg. "You always aim to reach the playoffs in any tournament and now we're there.
"But we're not satisfied yet. We've got more to give."
- USA vs. Czechia 11 February 12:10 (5:10 CET, 10 Feb. 23:10 ET)
- Canada vs. Sweden 11 February 21:10 (14:10 CET, 8:10 ET)
- ROC vs. Switzerland 12 February 12:10 (7:10 MCK, 5:10 CET)
- Finland vs. Japan 12 February 16:40 (17:40 JST, 10:40 EET)