There was plenty at stake in this game besides Nordic bragging rights. Sweden will face Germany, which has lost three straight games in regulation, in Thursday’s quarter-finals. Meanwhile, it's do or die for the Finns against Canada, the defending champions, who are coming off a surprising 6-5 overtime loss to the Czechs.
"It's always nice to beat Finland," said Sweden's Fabian Wagner. "It's very nice to be the first in the group. Now we prepare for Germany."
For Sweden, assistant captain Mattias Havelid stepped up with a pair of goals, and Tim Algren and Filip Bystedt also scored. Jonathan Lekkerimaki chipped in two assists.
Topi Ronni and Lenni Hameenaho replied with a goal and an assist apiece for Finland. Tuomas Uronen added the other Finnish goal.
"Both teams had their moments and it could have gone both ways, I guess," said Ronni. "But this time, it turned [out in Sweden's favour], and we have to be better on Thursday."
"We had too many ups and downs," added Finnish coach Mika Marttila. "The first 10 minutes were good for us, the second period was for Sweden. The third period was very good for us. The players were working hard and we won the period, but that was not enough today."
Sweden outshot Finland 31-27.
Finland is looking for its fifth U18 Worlds gold medal of all time. Its last two gold medals were in 2016 (Grand Forks, North Dakota) and 2018 (Chelyabinsk, Russia). The Swedes have only won the tournament once on home ice in 2019 (Ornskoldsvik, Sweden).
The tempo and intensity were high early on. Finland’s Jani Nyman tested Swedish goalie Hugo Havelid with an slap shot from the middle on the rush. The Finns were none too happy when Swedish defencemen Dennis Good Bogg crumpled Aleksanteri Kaskimaki with a heavy open-ice hit.
Mattias Havelid opened the scoring at 10:29. He backed up off the side boards with plenty of time to cue up his shot and fooled Finnish starter Topias Leinonen with a high glove-side wrister from long range.
The Finns had an answer at 16:06. Quick in transition, Kasper Halttunen pulled up inside the Swedish blue line and centred the puck to Ronni, who zinged the puck past Hugo Havelid to the stick side.
The Swedes entered this contest with the tournament’s most efficient power play, having clicked four times on eight opportunities in the first two games. Almgren made it 2-1 at 17:46 on their first man advantage, capitalizing from the slot after a pair of nice passes by Lekkerimaki and Noah Ostlund.
"I think we need to be more powerful both in the offensive zone and on defence," said Hameenaho.
In the second period, gritty work on the forecheck yielded Sweden's third goal at 8:05. Forward Isac Born outbattled Finnish blueliner Nikko Minkkinen along the end boards and sent the puck out front to Bystedt, who made no mistake for his second goal of these U18 Worlds.
At 11:13, Mattias Havelid's wrist shot from the left point eluded Leinonen through traffic for a 4-1 Swedish lead.
"[Mattias Havelid] is one of our important players as a defenseman and today he scored two goals," said coach Magnus Havelid. "He's done it before. That was good for us. As an assistant captain, he leads by example on the ice. Not just by scoring the goals, but also the way he helped us with the power play and penalty kill."
The Finns didn't give up. Just over three minutes later, Hameenaho cut the deficit to 4-2, converting Ronni's power-play set-up from behind the Swedish net.
In the third period, great puck movement enabled Finland to make it 4-3 at 11:36. Inside the Swedish blueline, Hameenaho sent a clever back pass through his legs to Uronen, who zinged the puck past the Swedish goalie.
But that was as close as Suomi would get. A late holding penalty to Joakim Kemell helped the Swedes kill time even though they didn't capitalize on the 5-on-4. With Leinonen pulled for the extra attacker, Hugo Havelid foiled Nyman from in tight to preserve the Smakronorna victory.
This was the fourteenth U18 Worlds game ever between these nations. Sweden enjoys the edge in head-to-head play with seven wins, two ties, and five losses.