WJC: Sweden to play for gold, beat Team USA 4-2 in semifinals

January 4, 2018
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For the first time since 2014, Sweden will compete for a gold medal at the IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championship.

Sweden punched their ticket to the gold medal game on Thursday at KeyBank Center with a 4-2 win over the defending gold medalists, the United States. The last time that Sweden had beaten the U.S. at the World Juniors was in preliminary play during the 2016 tournament in Helsinki, Finland.

The last time Sweden won gold at the World Juniors was back in 2012 when over the Russians in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It was the second time that Sweden won gold in the tournament's history, and they will look to win their third gold medal on Friday night.

"It's the biggest thing that you can win. It would be amazing for us," Swedish forward, and Buffalo Sabres prospect, Marcus Davidsson said following the win. "In Sweden, almost everyone watches this game. Even if you're watching hockey at other moments, they know the World [Junior] Championship because it plays during the Christmas break. Almost everyone watches it. It's huge in Sweden. A gold medal would mean a lot for us."

Davidsson and fellow Sabres prospect Alexander Nylander registered an assist in the win. Davidsson is not up to three points on the tournament with a goal and two assists, while Nylander is in a three-way tie for the team lead in scoring with seven points on a goal and six assists.

Both the U.S. and Sweden exchanged some good chances through the first 20 minutes of play, but neither team was able to find the back of the net.

The Americans found themselves in some penalty trouble in the second period as Winnipeg Jets defensive prospect Dylan Samberg was called for high sticking past the mid-way point of the contest.

The Swedes made the U.S. pay just 1:02 later as Vancouver Canucks prospect Elias Pettersson lets go of a shot that beats goalie Joseph Woll (Toronto Maple Leafs) high and to his glove side for the game's opening goal. It was Pettersson's fifth goal of the tournament, assisted by Nylander and Calgary Flames prospect Linus Lindstrom.

Team USA may have had their best scoring chance of the night with less than a minute to play in the second when the Americans caught the Swedes on a bad line change and went in on a 3-on-0 offensive rush. Sabres prospect Casey Mittelstadt took the puck to the net for the scoring chance, but goalie Filip Gustavsson (Pittsburgh Penguins) turned aside the chance, and then got ran over in his crease by New York Islanders prospect Kieffer Bellows. Bellows was penalized on the play for goalie interference.

"To be honest, I didn't really know it was a 3-on-0," Mittelstadt said of the play following the loss. "Someone was yelling 'go', so I just kind of went. I have to bury that, guess that's what it comes down to. Obviously if I score that, it's a different game."

"Casey can do anything he wants when he has the puck. I've got a little faith in Casey Mittelstadt to make a play," United States head coach Bob Motzko said of his young playmaker. "I've been coaching a long time, and when you get a clicker in your hands and you have the rewind button, I'm a great coach because you can rewind and pick it all to death. That's a dangerous place to be as a coach. We didn't try to run into the goalie, and that summed it up. We had a 3-on-0 with our three top scorers and we get a penalty out of it. I've never seen that before, ever."

Although the Swedes failed to convert on their powerplay chance off the penalty, they opened things wide-open in the third period with three goals in a span of 2:08.

The first came shortly after the United States failed to score on their fourth powerplay chance of the night. Sweden was able to catch the U.S. with just one defender back and generated a two-on-one chance with Lias Andersson (New York Rangers) and Fredrik Karlstrom (Dallas Stars). When U.S. defenseman Ryan Lindgren (Boston Bruins) cheated too much towards Andersson, he started a give-and-go with Karlstrom which resulted in Andersson netting his sixth goal of the tournament.

39-seconds after the Swedes scored to go up 2-0, they gave the Americans another chance to get back into the game with their fifth penalty of the game. However, the U.S. did more harm to themselves than good on this powerplay.

After U.S. captain Joey Anderson (New Jersey Devils) fails to keep the puck alive in the offensive zone, Boston Bruins prospect Oskar Steen quickly turned it back the other way for a two-on-one chance with Nylander. Steen opted to take a shot that found its way beating Woll high and to the short-side for Sweden's third goal of the game.

Just 38-seconds later, another miscue on the powerplay by the Americans leads to another shorthanded goal for the Swedes. Kailer Yamamoto's (Edmonton Oilers) cross-ice pass misses his teammate, and Davidsson takes the loose puck and chips it ahead to Axel Jonsson Fjallby (Washington Capitals). Jonsson Fjallby uses his speed to enter the zone and create some space to get a shot off. After making a subtle move to make Scott Perunovich (2018 NHL Draft eligible) miss on his stick check, Jonsson Fjallby rips another shot high and to Woll's glove side to make the score 4-0.

That was it for Woll, who was pulled for Jake Oettinger (Dallas Stars) after facing 19 shots and giving up four goals-against.

"I think we got a little sloppy with our retrieval, and from there they got a lucky bounce or something, so they get a break they other way and they score," Mittelstadt said of the third period collapse. "Obviously we've had a pretty good powerplay the whole tournament, and to give up a couple of [shorthanded goals] in the third was tough."

Mittelstadt finished the evening for the United States pointless for the first time all tournament. He is now in a two-way tie for the tournament lead in points with Martin Necas (Carolina Hurricanes) from the Czech Republic.

The U.S. managed to put up a couple of goals with time running out from Bellows and Brady Tkachuk (2018 NHL Draft eligible), but Sweden went into shut down mode late in the game to seal the victory and advance to the gold medal game.

"We just stuck to our gameplan, worked hard, and even though we played a lot of [penalty kill], the goals came and came fast," Davidsson said. "I think it's just important that we just believe in ourselves and keep going, even if they are having [some] luck. We have to keep going, and I think we will have a great chance to win."

"It just wasn't a good game for us. We didn't have good jump, we didn't have some legs, and then we were fighting it and we just couldn't get on track," Motzko said on the opposite side of the spectrum. "Of course, you have to give Sweden a lot of credit, and they made plays when they needed to make their plays. We didn't. We needed a spark to come our way to maybe turn the tide, and it just didn't. 3-on-0 breakaway with your top-three scorers of the tournament, and we take a penalty out of it. That kind of sums up what happened to us tonight. And then there were mistakes from the heart. Our kids wanted to do the right things tonight, but it just wasn't our night."

Josh Norris (San Jose Sharks) came away with the Player of the Game honors for the United States with four shots on goal in 12:00 of total ice-time.

It was Gustavsson in goal for Sweden who was honored as Player of the Game, finishing with 29 saves on 31 shots faced.

Up next for Sweden will be a matchup with Canada at 8 p.m. on Friday, after the Canadians dismantled the Czech Republic by a 7-2 final on Thursday night.

As for the Americans, they will look to take home the bronze medal against the Czechs, despite the disappointing finish to Thursday's game.

"Obviously we came here for a gold medal, but at the same time we have a lot of pride in the room," Mittelstadt said. "Any time you can try to play for a medal at least, you have to go out and give it your all. We're going to be ready for tomorrow."

"The biggest thing is: we're not done yet with USA Hockey," Motzko added. "Our message all along has been, 'it's our turn', meaning this team, these players... we have something to play for. Our mission is not done yet. As disappointed as we are right now, USA Hockey is still a country in building, we're still a country developing our level of high standard. It's up to us to go out on a very strong note tomorrow."

Faceoff for the bronze medal game on Friday is set for 4 p.m.