Finland wasn’t supposed to be one of the top teams at the World Hockey Championship this year. They didn’t have a single full-time NHLer on their roster, with stars like Mikko Rantanen, Aleksander Barkov, Sebastian Aho, Patrik Laine, and Teuvo Teravainen missing the tournament due to an injury, a long playoff run, or both.
Sweden, on the other hand, was coming off back-to-back gold medals and was a favourite to medal again. While missing some stars, they still had a strong team, led by a deep defence corps anchored by John Klingberg, Mattias Ekholm, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Adam Larsson.
At forward, William Nylander set a new record for most points by a Swedish player at the World Championships, while Elias Pettersson, Patric Hornqvist, Alexander Wennberg, Adrian Kempe, Anton Lander, and Elias Lindholm all had great tournaments. In net, Sweden had the legendary Henrik Lundqvist, backed up by Jacob Markstrom, who had a superb season for the Canucks.
On paper, Sweden had Finland over a barrel in their quarterfinal matchup. But Finland had already surprised Canada with an upset to open the tournament, while Sweden had struggled against Russia, Latvia, and Switzerland to end the preliminary round. For all their stars, particularly on defence, Sweden’s defensive structure had been questionable all tournament and their goaltending looked surprisingly porous.
Or, perhaps it isn’t surprising that the 37-year-old Lundqvist isn’t the goaltender he once was. He certainly looked shaky against Finland, allowing a goal on the first shot he faced, a long, unscreened slap shot from the point.
Sweden quickly responded on the power play, as Nylander set the national record with a fantastic cross-ice pass to Klingberg for a one-timer. Then Hornqvist put Sweden ahead with an odd deflection in the slot that knocked the stick out of his hands before bouncing in off a Finnish skate.
Just 25 seconds into the second period, Elias Pettersson scored his third goal and 10th point of the tournament. It was a gorgeous goal, as he faked a shot while throwing on the brakes with his right skate, cutting inside on defenceman Miika Koivisto, then roofed the puck past Finnish goaltender Kevin Lankinen.
That gave Sweden the 4-1 lead and it seemed like they had the game well in hand. But, after the goal, Finland pushed back hard and dominated the second period, and the early, long-distance goal on Lundqvist proved to be an omen.
Finland scored two more goals on shots from distance in the second period. At least those two were screened, unlike the first, but it does make you wonder how Jacob Markstrom might have performed in his stead. Any chance Markstrom had to supplant Lundqvist as the starter was likely lost when he gave up six goals in one period to Russia at the end of the preliminary round.
Sweden held on for dear life in the third period, as Finland out-shot the Swedes 11-3. It raises questions about their coaching, though Rikard Gronborg is a highly respected coach. Perhaps Loui Eriksson shouldn’t have had the second-highest ice time among Swedish forwards in the third period. Just a thought.
Nylander, who was dominant all tournament, played 4:51 in the third period. Eriksson played 7:03.
With a couple minutes left and their goaltender pulled, Finland poured on the pressure. Lundqvist made two fantastic saves, but the rebound sat in the crease for 6’8” Finnish captain Marko Anttila to shovel it home for his first point of the tournament.
It was a stunning finish to regulation, rivalling Canada’s literal last-second goal to push their quarterfinal with Switzerland to overtime.
Eriksson didn’t look great for Sweden on the tying goal: with five Finnish skaters below the hashmarks, Eriksson stayed up high, ostensibly to keep an eye on the remaining defenceman at the point. Unfortunately, that’s not where the danger was, so he ended up coasting in as Finnish forwards converged on the rebound.
Eriksson was in much better position on Finland’s overtime goal, but that’s cold comfort. It was confusing to even see Eriksson on the ice in overtime, as 3-on-3 doesn’t exactly play to his strengths. He got on the ice in overtime ahead of Wennberg and Hornqvist, who both had 10 points in the tournament. Hornqvist had a team-leading seven goals. Eriksson and his team-worst minus-8 got on the ice ahead of him.
That’s not meant to disparage Eriksson, just raise the question of how Gronborg viewed Eriksson and his role. Eriksson kicked off the tournament by suggesting that he and Canucks head coach Travis Green aren’t on the same page and saying that he believes he has a lot more offence to give. This tournament put that to the test and he didn’t deliver, scoring just one goal and four points (three of them against Italy) despite significant power play time.
The tough loss means just one Canuck remains of the six that went to the World Championship: Troy Stecher. He and Canada will face Czechia, who already upset Sweden in the preliminary round, in the semifinals. On the other side of the semifinals, Russia will play Finland.