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Team Sweden

Team Sweden never played to potential

Loss in World Cup semifinal to Team Europe leaves empty feeling

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

TORONTO -- After each game Team Sweden played at the World Cup of Hockey 2016, players would talk about how they were good, but had more to give. They would bring up positive traits such as character and patience, but also say their best was yet to come.

It never came. It never will in this tournament.

Team Sweden was eliminated in a 3-2 overtime loss against Team Europe in the semifinals Sunday. Team Europe advances to play Team Canada in the best-of-3 final, which begins Tuesday at Air Canada Centre (8 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"Maybe we weren't better," defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. "Maybe we weren't as good as we thought we were because we haven't been playing better than the first game. Maybe that was our limit. I don't know."

Hjalmarsson doesn't want to believe that, but he didn't deny the facts.

Team Sweden's best game in the World Cup was its first in the preliminary round, a 2-1 win against Team Russia with Jacob Markstrom in net instead of Henrik Lundqvist, who was ill.

It never found that level again once Lundqvist returned to the net against Team Finland. Maybe Team Sweden became too reliant on him and didn't protect Lundqvist the way it did Markstrom against Team Russia.

Video: EUR@SWE: Tatar capitalizes for overtime winner

That's a fair argument to make now, especially considering how good Lundqvist had to be to get Team Sweden into the semifinal.

He was brilliant despite being under siege at times in a 36-save 2-0 win against Team Finland. He followed that performance by making 45 saves to help Team Sweden barely eke out a point in a 4-3 overtime loss to Team North America.

That game was downright ugly and embarrassing for Team Sweden at the start before it finally found its equilibrium and managed to come back to earn the point it needed to finish first in Group B.

Team Sweden then went toe-to-toe with Team Europe on Sunday, but couldn't capitalize on its surges or create enough Grade A scoring chances. It couldn't break Team Europe's structure until it trailed 2-1 on Tomas Tatar's first goal 12 seconds into the third period.

Team Sweden outshot Team Europe 20-8 after that and defenseman Erik Karlsson tied the game at 15:28 of the third period, but Tatar struck again 3:43 into overtime to win it for Team Europe.

Video: EUR@SWE: Karlsson evens the game late from the point

"We definitely have [better] looking at the players that we have and the things that they do for each and every team that they play for in this league," Karlsson said. "Unfortunately, we just couldn't find a way to elevate that from Day 1. The best execution we had was against Russia the first game. After that I don't think we really played good enough hockey."

Scoring was a big problem. Team Sweden produced nine goals in four games, including one empty-net goal.

The power play, loaded with skill from Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin to Loui Eriksson and Karlsson, Nicklas Backstrom and Filip Forsberg to Patric Hornqvist, Landeskog and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, never clicked. It went 1-for-13 with nine shots on goal.

The one power-play goal came from Landeskog against Team Russia. Team Sweden was 0-for-12 with seven shots after that, including 0-for-3 with one shot Sunday. Team Europe's penalty killers generated four shots on goal.

"I feel like we didn't really find a way to take that next step individually and as a team," Karlsson said. "We didn't do enough to create enough. I don't think it has anything to do with taking chances or being risky, we just didn't find a way to connect all the way through."

It wasn't for lack of possession Sunday. Team Sweden outshot Team Europe 39-31 and finished with a 76-54 advantage in total shot attempts, including 64-47 at even strength. Team Europe goalie Jaroslav Halak made 37 saves, including 16 in the third period and three more in overtime.

"The few chances that we got were quality chances, but we didn't score on them," Karlsson said. "Halak played a great game for them. We did everything we could with what we had."

The problem is they thought they had more. Turns out they didn't. It's going to take a while for Team Sweden's players and coaches and ice hockey federation leaders to figure out why. Unfortunately for them, the post mortem starts now.

"There's definitely some soul searching," Lundqvist said.

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