Sweden penalty kill the difference in semifinal win
|Marcus Kruger, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya combined for a major PK in Sweden's win (Getty Images).|
SOCHI -- Sweden defenseman Niklas Kronwall was not about to call the game his team played Friday perfect.
"I don't know if it was perfect but we did a lot of good things out there," said Kronwall, the Swedish captain.
Whatever quibbles Kronwall had after Sweden claimed a 2-1 victory against rival Finland at Bolshoy Ice Dome to book a place in the 2014 Sochi Olympics gold-medal game, he had no complaints about his team's penalty kill.
In fact, Kronwall acknowledged Sweden's ability to succeed shorthanded likely was one of the biggest reasons his team escaped with a one-goal victory.
If Kronwall was looking for areas to critique, one of the few could be that his team took too many penalties, almost all of the unnecessary variety. Four of the team's five infractions occurred in the offensive zone which often is a sin which exacts a stiff price.
Not on this day, however. Not even when the team was undisciplined enough to put itself two men down in the second half of the first period.
To that point the Swedes had carried the play a bit. They did not allow Finland a shot for the game's first four minutes and were enjoying a territorial advantage until Patrik Berglund took an offensive-zone roughing penalty at 12:38. Twenty-five seconds later Kronwall was forced into a tripping penalty and Finland had its first break of the game, a 95-second run of 5-on-3 hockey.
However Finland could do nothing with the advantage.
"It was one of the bigger points of the game, no doubt," said Kronwall, who watched it all from the penalty box. "[Goalie Henrik Lundqvist] made an unbelievable save there. I thought the guys on the ice did an unbelievable job of keeping them on the outside, and when they did set up Hank [Lundqvist] was there for us. You gain momentum from that."
Only now they were on the wider ice surface at Bolshoy Ice Dome and they were chasing a puck being passed around the zone by the Finns, who sensed blood in the water. Yet the three Blackhawks never flinched, maintaining a tight triangle formation to take away the primary scoring lanes.
Then Berglund came storming out of the box when his penalty expired to reinforce the three defenders. Kronwall joined the fray 25 seconds later.
Crisis averted. Momentum gained.
"It was huge," Hjalmarsson said when asked about the 5-on-3. "I think we weathered the storm there. We had way too many penalty kills in the first period. I was pretty gassed still in the second period, actually, from that. So it took me a while to recover, but we’ve played really well 3-on-5 there. They maybe had one good chance.
"Other than that I think we shut them down really [well] and it's obviously an advantage for us to play in Chicago too. So we know exactly where to be out there."
The Swedish penalty kill was just getting warmed up. It already had killed an offensive-zone penalty by Alexander Steen in the game's fourth minute and would be asked to kill two more penalties after the 5-on-3.
The first foul was committed by Daniel Alfredsson less than two minutes after Olli Jokinen had given Finland a 1-0 lead. Suddenly Finland had the momentum and an opportunity to put a stranglehold on the game.
"I think the turning point is we got the first goal and had a power play right after it," Jokinen said. "We had a pretty good chance to score. That's the time you want to put the team away and get a two-goal lead."
Finland would have one more power-play chance to find the equalizer when Daniel Sedin took a third-period penalty. Again, though, Sweden was too stout, even minus a player.
"I think everyone is sacrificing out there," said forward Loui Eriksson, one of the penalty killers and the player who scored the winning goal. "You can see a lot of people blocking shots and playing good defense. I thought we took too many penalties [Friday] but I thought we did a good job to handle those."
It was a three-tiered plan that frustrated the Finns on the power play. First the Swedes were aggressive on the penalty kill, sending forwards deeper on the forecheck than usual to contest more of the ice. If that failed the forwards regrouped at their blue line and contested entry into the zone. If possession was established by Finland the Swedes concentrated on keeping a tight formation in the area between the faceoff circles.
When all else failed the penalty killers prayed Lundqvist would come through. He never failed them.
"They won the special teams battle, that was the difference," Jokinen said.