Team Sweden can complete a perfect ride through Group B and assure itself of a trip to the semifinals at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 by defeating Team North America at Air Canada Centre on Wednesday (3 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN, TVA Sports).
Team Sweden will be playing on back-to-back days after defeating Team Finland 2-0 on Tuesday to improve to 2-0-0. Team North America is 1-1-0 after losing 4-3 to Team Russia on Monday.
Team Sweden can lock up a berth in the semifinals with a win or a non-regulation loss. Team North America needs a win to bolster its hopes of moving ahead.
Here are Reasons for Optimism for Team North America and Team Sweden:
1. Fast and Faster:
Through two games, opponents have only rarely been able to slow down Team North America, which arguably is the fastest team most of us have ever seen. The speed of the 23-or-younger roster made life miserable for Team Finland, and only a 43-save performance by goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky enabled Team Russia to hang on for a 4-3 victory Monday.
The first goal against Team Russia showed that speed at its best. Connor McDavid raced into the Team Russia zone, got past Pavel Datsyuk and found Auston Matthews for an easy goal, one that was scored at dizzying speed.
2. Young Legs, Wise Head:
Coach Todd McLellan was able to get his young team to regroup after Team Russia scored four straight goals in the second period. Team North America regained its composure and dominated the third period, outshooting Team Russia 19-4 and nearly coming all the way back from down three goals to force overtime.
"When you get up to the plate, swing the bat," McLellan said of his team's go-for-it style. "We don't want to get to first on a walk or a hit by pitch. We want to swing the bat and put the ball in play. We didn't do that for that six- or seven-minute period [against Team Russia]. When we're doing that, we are aggressive, we're on top of teams, we're catching people from behind, we're creating transition."
3. The King is Back:
Henrik Lundqvist's struggles during pretournament play were nowhere to be found in the victory against Team Finland. Lundqvist made 36 saves in his first World Cup appearance after he was forced to miss the opener against Team Russia because of illness.
"You relax," Team Sweden forward Daniel Sedin said of Lundqvist's play. "You know you can make a mistake and he's going to be there for you. That feeling is something. It's tough to explain, but you can feel it."
Lundqvist said he felt good after the game and hopes to get the call against Team North America. But coach Rikard Gronborg wasn't making any commitment after the win against Team Finland. One reason is that backup Jacob Markstrom was superb against Team Russia on Sunday, making 27 saves in a 2-1 win. If Gronborg doesn't want to push Lundqvist on a back-to-back after his illness, he has every reason to be confident in Markstrom.
4. Defense Steps Up:
Team Sweden's goaltenders have gotten plenty of help from what's arguably the best defense in the tournament. Anton Stralman scored the first goal in the win against Finland, making a smart read to pinch before converting a feed from Henrik Sedin.
The goaltending has been excellent through two games, but Markstrom and Lundqvist have gotten plenty of help from a defense that's superb at each end of the ice.