Team Sweden won't be taking anything for granted when it plays Team Europe in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 semifinal at Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Sunday (1 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, TVA Sports).
Team Europe struggled in its first two pretournament games, but put it all together in the third one, a 6-2 win against Team Sweden. Team Europe then defeated the Team USA and Team Czech Republic to earn a spot in the semifinals before losing 4-1 to Team Canada in its final preliminary-round game on Wednesday to finish second in Group A.
Team Sweden came in first in Group B despite losing its final preliminary-round game on Wednesday, 4-3 in overtime to Team North America, after victories against Team Russia and Team Finland.
The winner of this game will play Team Canada, which defeated Team Russia 5-3 in the other semifinal game on Saturday, in the best-of-3 final beginning on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, TVA Sports).
Here are the reasons for optimism for Team Europe and Team Sweden:
Playing with house money
Team Europe has already done more than almost anyone could have expected, especially after the two pretournament losses to Team North America. Coach Ralph Krueger has succeeded in getting a group of 23 players from eight countries to play as a unit and enjoy themselves.
"This is a new team, you kind of don't look at it as a national team," said forward Mats Zuccarello (Norway). "It's a fun team; we're just here to have fun, you know? Play good hockey and do our best and have fun. I think that's what we can really get out of it."
Halak is back
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak sustained a lower-body injury on March 8 while playing for the New York Islanders and was out for the rest of the season. But after offseason surgery, he stepped up and took the No. 1 goaltending job ahead of Islanders teammate Thomas Greiss and Philipp Grubauer. Halak played every minute of Team Europe's three preliminary-round games, allowing six goals on 111 shots for a .946 save percentage.
Despite playing behind a defense that's allowed an average of 37 shots a game, Halak has given Team Europe a chance to win every night.
Video: EUR@CAN: Halak denies Marchand with great pad stop
Team Sweden players admit that they might have taken Team Europe a bit lightly in their pretournament game, and paid the price. They're adamant that there will be no taking an opponent for granted this time, especially with a trip to the finals on the line.
"Look at their roster. They have a good team," Team Sweden defenseman Erik Karlsson said. "They have been together long enough now to know each other a little more and what style of play they need to be successful. They are going to be a tougher team to beat on Sunday than they were a [few] days ago."
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was pulled from the pretournament game against Team Europe after allowing five goals, then had to miss Team Sweden's first World Cup game against Team Russia because of illness. He returned for the last two preliminary-round games and was the biggest reason Team Sweden is in the semifinals. Lundqvist made 36 saves in a 3-0 victory against Team Finland, and his 45 saves in a 4-3 overtime loss to Team North America provided the point that enabled Team Sweden to finish first in Group B.
This may be the last time that Lundqvist, now 34, represents his country in a major international tournament. If that's the case, he'll want to end it with a World Cup championship.