After missing Sweden's tournament opener with a surprise illness, goalie Henrik Lundqvist was back in action and looking as sharp as ever. The New York Rangers netminder made 36 saves as Sweden blanked arch rival Finland 2-0 to take sole possession of first place in Group B.
As for Finland, they also had a different goalie for their second game. Tuukka Rask came in after Pekka Rinne got the start in their opening game against North America. Rask made 27 saves on 28 shots to give his team a chance, but Finland now sits 0-2, which all but eliminates them from semifinal contention.
Anton Stralman scored off of a nice feed from Henrik Sedin in the second period, while Loui Eriksson added the empty-net dagger just before time expired.
It was a pretty sleepy game between the two rivals, right up until things really picked up in the third period as Finland kept pressing for that last goal. You can't fault the Finns for a lack of effort in this one, but Lundqvist was just too strong between the pipes after overcoming the flu bug that sidelined him over the weekend.
Here are three takeaways from Tuesday's contest.
1. Sweden has a chance to clinch first in the group Wednesday
With their 2-0 start, the Swedes are the only undefeated team in Group B and in the driver's seat to finish first overall. Standing in their way will be Team North America. Those two teams will meet Wednesday afternoon.
For Sweden, it's pretty simple. A win over Team NA puts them through in first and that's that. In that scenario, Team North America would be rooting for a Finland regulation win in Thursday's game against Russia. That would force a three-way tie for second place, where the North America kids have a plus-2 goal differential advantage right now in the tiebreakers. However, a Russia win coupled with a North America loss over these last two group games would send the Russians through to the semis.
In the event Sweden loses to North America Wednesday, they would have to wait to see the results of the Russia-Finland game to determine whether or not it's a three-way tie. Goal differential and whether or not games were won in regulation suddenly become a factor. However, a North America win coupled with a Russian loss to Finland puts North America in first place and Sweden slides into the semis in second place.
The long and short of it is Sweden is in very good shape to advance.
2. Finland's physical third period included two questionable hits
In the third period, while trailing 1-0, Finland really started applying the physical game to Sweden. It materialized a little more maliciously in a pair of hits.
The first involved Finnish defenseman Sami Lepisto drilling Mikael Backlund with a high hit. There was a bunch of head contact and Backlund ended up with a bloody nose.
Lepisto hit pic.twitter.com/DrMygGfBqq— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 20, 2016
There was no penalty on the play, though Lepisto was given a minor for roughing after he was confronted by Gabriel Landeskog after the hit. As far as the check goes, this looks like an instance where Lepisto could not have done much differently. Backlund releases the puck just before he gets hammered and had assumed a body position that made head contact virtually unavoidable. It looks more like a good hit with an unfortunate result. Still very much contact to the head, but not a situation where Lepisto was targeting the head. That's why I'd be skeptical of any supplemental discipline.
This hit by Leo Komarov is far more concerning however. Away from the puck, he delivered a "low-bridge" hit on Victor Hedman. Again, the puck is nowhere near these two and Hedman ended up hobbled on the play, though he did return to the game.
Komarov penalty on Hedman pic.twitter.com/RDoS1fBDNJ— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 20, 2016
Komarov, who also delivered the hit that may have knocked Aaron Ekblad out of the tournament, got a minor for interference. It was completely unnecessary and cost Finland valuable time while they were chasing the game. It will be interesting to see if this is reviewed further, but either way, it's a play you'd rather not see anywhere, let alone in a tournament before the long regular season.
3. The Sedins can still move the puck as well as anyone
There wasn't a ton of offensive activity in this game, but the playmaking abilities of Henrik and Daniel Sedin remain elite.
The two were in on the assists for Sweden's only goal that managed to beat an actual goalie, thanks to some good old fashioned Sedin cycling and being granted way too much time and space by Finland.
After Daniel dished it down low to Henrik, Anton Stralman snuck into the slot area. Henrik then dished a subtle, perfect backhand pass for the easy tap-in. Rask came close to stopping it, but the shot slipped just under his pad to give Sweden the 1-0 lead.
The hard work finally paid off for Team Sweden in the 2nd period. #WCH2016pic.twitter.com/CZgJ1azn6E— #WCH2016 (@NHL) September 20, 2016
Interestingly enough, goal scoring has not come easy for the Swedes. They managed only two goals against Russia and another two against Finland, one of which was an empty-netter. They've been extremely disciplined on D, to the point where they're really dulling the games down and may be sacrificing offense as a result.
Having lost some of their veteran forwards that do a lot of their scoring, particularly Henrik Zetterberg, they're keeping it pretty simple and the result has been two wins. It's not always pretty or fun, but they'll take it.