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Semi-Final

5 Keys: Team Europe vs. Team Sweden

Quick start, converting on power play crucial to advancing in World Cup semifinal

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

TORONTO -- Team Sweden and Team Europe play in the semifinals of the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on Sunday (1 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, TVA Sports). The winner advances to play Team Canada in the best-of-3 final, which begins Tuesday. 

Here are 5 keys to the game:

 

1. Halak On His Head

If the semifinal plays out as expected, Team Sweden, with the deeper lineup, figures to generate the majority of the scoring chances. Team Sweden also figures it can count on goalie Henrik Lundqvist for another superb performance because that's typically what he does in big games.

That leaves a major task on the shoulders of Team Europe goalie Jaroslav Halak, who has been excellent in the tournament so far.

Halak has faced the most shots of any goalie (111) and has the most saves (105). His .946 save percentage is fourth among the starting goalies who made it to the semifinals, but he faced 15 more shots than any of them.

Halak, though, hasn't won a win-or-go-home game since the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Lundqvist is 6-2 in Game 7s in his NHL career and won the gold-medal game for Sweden in the 2006 Torino Olympics. He made 25 saves to help Sweden defeat Finland 2-1 in the semifinals of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Video: EUR@CAN: Halak denies Marchand with great pad stop

 

2. Make 'Em Turn

Team Sweden left wing Carl Hagelin brought this up and it's a great point.

Hagelin thinks it'll be important for Team Sweden to, at times, play a dump and chase game because that will force some of Team Europe's bigger and slower defensemen like Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Christian Ehrhoff to have to turn and go back for the puck.

If Team Sweden can get them turning, Hagelin thinks that will get them uncomfortable.

"They have some bigger guys who are really good if they keep you in front of them, but once they have to start turning then you can create some offense and create some turnovers," Hagelin said. "That's going to be one of the things we have to do, especially my line, get the puck and work them down low."

 

3. Containing Backstrom's Line

It'll be interesting to see how Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger deploys his lines, because Team Sweden's top line is technically Henrik Sedin with Daniel Sedin and Loui Eriksson, but it's best line has been Nicklas Backstrom with Patric Hornqvist and Filip Forsberg.

Backstrom's line had six even-strength points in the three preliminary-round games. Going back to the pretournament games, it has outscored the opposition 7-2 at even strength and had 13 points in total.

The Sedins and Eriksson had four points at even strength in the three preliminary-round games and that's after starting approximately 90 percent of their even-strength shifts in the offensive zone.

Krueger could go power-on-power and use his top line of Anze Kopitar with Marian Hossa and Tomas Tatar against Backstrom's line. Kopitar won the Selke Trophy last season and Hossa is one of the premier defensive forwards in the League too.

Video: NAT@SWE: Backstrom scores on lucky deflection

 

4. Be Powerful

Neither team has found solid footing on the power play yet.

Team Sweden went 1-for-10 in the preliminary round, including 0-for-8 since Gabriel Landeskog's goal at 10:41 of the second period in its tournament opener against Team Russia. Team Europe went 0-for-11 in its three preliminary round games.

Team Sweden has arguably had more consistent puck movement and better scoring chances than Team Europe, but has still struggled to get the puck to the net. It has eight shots on the power play, including two in the first two games before having six on five chances against Team North America on Wednesday.

Team Europe had 19 shots on six power plays in its 3-2 overtime win against Team Czech Republic, but was 0-for-5 with four shots combined in its games against Team USA and Team Canada.

What a huge advantage it would be for one of these teams if it can score a goal, or at the very least gain momentum off of its power plays Sunday.

Video: SWE@RUS: Landeskog buries PPG to open the scoring

 

5. Fast Start And First Goal

Nobody wants to start slow. Nobody wants to trail early. That's obvious. It's typically a key in any game, but the difference in this one is both Team Sweden and Team Europe will try to play a systems game. It won't be a chance-for-chance game, so the team that establishes the early lead will have a major advantage in what could be more like a chess match between coaches.

Team Europe will be opportunistic in transition, but it won't attack Team Sweden the way Team North America did Wednesday. Team Sweden will be patient and skillful, but it's not going to take risks that potentially could take it out of its system.

Safe, smart hockey will be the key to winning this one. An early lead will go a long way to allowing one of these teams to abide by those rules.

Video: EUR@CZE: Chara beats Mrazek up high

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