Sweden tops Slovenia 5-0, advances to hockey semis
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — With Henrik Lundqvist in goal, Sweden never seems to be short-handed.
Lundqvist made 19 saves for his second shutout of the Sochi Games and Carl Hagelin scored twice, helping the Swedes rout upstart Slovenia 5-0 Wednesday to advance into the Olympic hockey semifinals without three of their best players.
The New York Rangers star, who also blanked Switzerland in the preliminary round, won the 2012 Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender. Lundqvist lifted the Swedes to gold at the Turin Games eight years ago without a shutout, and he believes he is better now.
“I learned so much over the years in New York,” he said. “I changed my game a lot. That was my first year in the league, and I changed my game that year, being very aggressive to playing more deep in the net and crease.”
On Friday, the 2006 Olympic champions will face Finland, which beat the host Russians, for a spot in the gold-medal game.
Before Finland played Russia, Sweden coach Par Marts was asked about his next opponent and replied, “Does it matter?”
Then, the coach did something unusual: He made a prediction.
“I think the Russian team will win,” Marts said. That forecast turned out to be wrong, as Finland eliminated Russia 3-1.
Finland coach Erkka Westerlund said “no comment” when asked for his reaction to what Marts said, and Finn forward Olli Jokinen added: “I don’t really care.”
Sweden is the only team to win all four of its games in regulation — without Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Sedin and Johan Franzen.
Even without them, the smooth-skating, sweet-passing Swedes have a shot to beat anyone in the tournament, in part because of Lundqvist.
“He’s been tremendous,” teammate Daniel Sedin said. “It’s fun to watch.”
So was Slovenia, playing in their first Olympic hockey tournament until they eliminated in a blowout.
Alexander Steen got the first goal at 18:50 into the game. After a scoreless second, Daniel Sedin, Loui Eriksson and Hagelin broke it open with four goals in the third period.
“I can’t blame the players because their tanks were really empty,” Slovenia coach Matjaz Kopitar said.
Hagelin scored two goals after shaking off a hit to the head, a break for a team already missing three top-line forwards. Hagelin skated off the ice went to the bench in a daze with a busted lip, which he said was from a high-stick earlier in the tournament, after Slovenia’s Sabahudin Kovacevic landed his left shoulder on his head midway through the game.
Hagelin said it was a dirty hit.
“The puck was behind me and he elbowed me in the head,” he said. “I’m fine. Woke me up, hopefully.”
Asked if he had a concussion, Hagelin said with a grin: “I hope not.”
Kovacevic was suspended for a game earlier in the tournament for hitting Slovakia’s Tomas Kopecky in the head with his left elbow.
Sweden probably couldn’t afford to lose another player up front.
Zetterberg, the team’s captain, pulled out of the tournament after playing in one game because of a herniated disk. Henrik Sedin didn’t make the trip to play with his twin, Daniel, because of a rib injury. Franzen was ruled out because of a concussion.
He wasn’t tested much in the quarterfinals by Slovenia, a team that no one thought would even be here a little more than a year ago.
Slovenia won two games in its first Olympic hockey tournament.
“Nobody gave us a legit chance to do that,” Anze Kopitar said.
Slovenia earned a surprising spot in the 12-nation tournament by beating Belarus, Ukraine and Denmark in last year’s qualification tournament. They have only one NHL player, Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, and are coached by his father, who said his country has just five fully covered hockey rinks and wants to double that.
“I hope something good can come out of here,” the coach said.
Sweden has 23 players from the NHL, not counting Zetterberg, who is one of six Detroit Red Wings who traveled to Russia to play for the team.
Early in the lopsided game, Slovenia was competitive and looked as if it belonged on the ice with a traditional power. It weathered an early storm of shots and started to control the puck and create chances of its own, but Lundqvist snagged or blocked everything.
Slovenia goalie Robert Kristan stopped 33 shots.
“We were playing pretty sharp hockey until the start of the third,” Anze Kopitar said. “They scored a couple quick ones. That was a little bit of a bummer. Other than that, we threw everything at them that we had. Maybe fatigue set in a little bit because we played four games in five days.”
Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrylage