No Lundqvist? No problem for Sweden. Despite losing starter Henrik Lundqvist to illness before their World Cup of Hockey opener, Sweden downed Russia 2-1 to get off to a great start in Group B.
Jacob Markstrom, who replaced Lundqvist, made 27 saves in the win. Sweden got goals from Gabriel Landeskog and Victor Hedman to collect the regulation win. It didn’t come easy, though.
Russia gave a late push to try to get back in the game and came incredibly close to succeeding. Alex Ovechkin scored a goal to cut the deficit in half with just 33 seconds remaining in regulation. Then, with seven seconds to go it looked like the Russian captain had tied the game on a crazy play.
The goal was immediately waved off by the officials, however, as it was ruled that Ovechkin had batted the puck in with his glove. Ovechkin pleaded with the officials, trying to convince them that he got the puck with his stick before it crossed the line. Had that actually happened, it would have indeed been a goal. However, none of the replays showed evidence of Ovechkin getting the puck with his stick.
It was the right call, but was it ever close to being 2-2.
So Sweden escaped with a 2-1 victory and a hold on first place in Group B for now. As for the Russians, they have to get right back after it Monday as they’ll take on Team North America in what should be a must-win game for Ovechkin and company.
Here are some of the takeaways from the game.
1. This game was a tale of two blue lines
As expected, Sweden’s biggest strength was the play of their defensemen. Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson were particularly excellent throughout the game, aiding the team’s transition and jumping into plays offensively. The best thing Sweden does, however, is getting the puck out of their zone pretty quickly.
They barely ever allowed sustained pressure, which never allowed Russia to get into much of a rhythm offensively.
Despite this, both teams had the puck a lot in the game. There wasn’t a significant edge in either direction in terms of puck possession and scoring chances. But Russia was getting by mostly on the incredible skill of their forwards.
One of the key weaknesses for this Russian team is the lack of depth on the blue line. That was apparent in the opening game when the team struggled with getting the puck up the ice cleanly. They never really caught Sweden’s highly-mobile blue line flat-footed in transition.
If Russia had a few more skilled puck-movers back there, they might have had better luck putting pucks past Markstrom.
2. Russia didn’t get enough pressure on Markstrom early
One of the key factors in the game was that the Russians couldn’t seem to get enough pressure on Sweden’s surprise starter in net. Markstrom has plenty of international experience under his belt, but his resume pales in comparison to that of Henrik Lundqvist.
Russia managed only eight shots on goal in the first period. They allowed the 26-year-old goalie to settle in. You also have to once again credit the Swedish defense on that as they protected their younger goaltender pretty well, but Russia’s flat start may have ultimately cost them the game.
Markstrom never looked out of place and seemed comfortable until the last 30 seconds of the game when Russia finally started pressing him harder.
3. Alex Ovechkin was all over the place (in a good way)
Russia certainly can’t hang this loss on their captain. Ovechkin was completely engaged in this game in all facets. He was among Russia’s most physical players throughout the game and even delivered a hit on Washington Capitals teammate Nicklas Backstrom.
Ovechkin also showed off his sniping ability on this seeing-eye shot that got his team within one.
Perhaps the most curious thing about Ovechkin’s game was his ice time. It was affected by the two minor penalties he took, but coach Oleg Znarok’s insistence on rolling all four lines for most of the game didn’t get his best player on the ice nearly enough, penalties or not.
Ovechkin set the tone for his team and never gave up on that game, as shown by his single-handed effort to nearly tie the game.
4. Sweden’s goal song will get stuck in your head for the rest of the day
For the World Cup of Hockey, each team gets to pick their goal song. The Swedes are probably the only team with a goal song that was actually tailor-made for them and it’s an absolute ear-worm of a tune.
Swedish metal band The Poodles recorded a song specifically for the team to play after goals during the 2013 IIHF World Championship. That same year that Sweden won the IIHF World Championship on home ice. Now it’s their goal song for every tournament, including the World Cup of Hockey.
The music video – yes, there is a music video for it – is pretty great if you’re into big hair, guitar solos and Joel Lundqvist. If you don’t want this stuck in your head for forever, don’t click the link, otherwise I give you “En För Alla För En”:
Sweden is back in action Tuesday against rival Finland. I’m sure we’ll get to hear this song plenty more in the tournament.
Source: CBS Sports / Sweden survives late scare, beats Russia at World Cup: 4 takeaways