TORONTO -- Team Sweden's best game so far in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 was its first, a smothering 2-1 victory against Team Russia on Sunday.
The reason, according to captain Henrik Sedin, was that it played with fear; not of the players and coaches, but of the idea Team Russia could dominate if disrespected.
"We were really scared of Russia," Sedin said. "We came in knowing it was a huge game for us. Then you look at their lineup, their forwards, and we had a lot of respect for that team. We played it perfectly. You could tell the focus was 100 percent."
Sedin said he and his teammates need to feel some of that same fear against Team Europe in the semifinals at Air Canada Centre on Sunday (1 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, TVA Sports). It's a key to Team Sweden's focus, which has to be sharp in a win-or-go-to-your-respective-NHL-training-camp game.
Nobody wants to head for training camp just yet. That should be enough for motivation and focus.
"I know we have another level in here," left wing Carl Hagelin said. "You can probably ask every single guy on this team; no one is going to say, 'I played an unreal game' yet."
Nor will anybody in the dressing room say he has forgotten about how Team Sweden played against Team Europe in their pretournament game. Turnovers, mistakes in coverage and an overall lack of respect for Team Europe led to what some of Team Sweden's players have called an embarrassing 6-2 loss at Verizon Center on Sept. 14.
"They surprised us," defenseman Anton Stralman said.
It shouldn't happen again, certainly not after the way Team Europe responded to its win against Team Sweden. It has gone on to surprise just about everyone else in this tournament with a 2-1-0 record in the preliminary round, featuring wins against Team USA and Team Czech Republic, and a respectable showing in a 4-1 loss against Team Canada on Wednesday.
Sedin said the respect for Team Europe, this unprecedented team with 23 players from eight countries, has risen since that pretournament game in Washington.
"I watched them against Canada and I was impressed," Sedin said. "Canada put 50 shots on net and they didn't play maybe their best game, but Europe had a lot of chances to score and could have been up early on. They showed against the other two teams that they're a great team."
Team Sweden showed against the other two teams it played it can be vulnerable and beatable if it doesn't focus or respect the opponent.
It defeated Team Finland 2-0 because Henrik Lundqvist was sharp in making 36 saves. Otherwise, that wasn't Team Sweden even close to its best.
"You look at their [defensemen], they're young, and we just thought we could outplay them if we got the game where we wanted," Sedin said.
Team Sweden never really did, nor did it come close to outplaying Team North America. It got the point it needed to win Group B only after coming back from a poor start before losing 4-3 in overtime. That game could have gotten out of hand quickly if Team Sweden didn't start respecting the speed and skill of Team North America.
"I don't think you've seen the best of us yet," Stralman said.
Maybe not, but Team Sweden was close against Team Russia. That was a dominant performance. Replicate it against Team Europe, and it should be enough to get through to the championship round.
To do it, Team Sweden needs to remember what Sedin was saying Thursday, that a little bit of fear can go a long way.
"That's what you see in the [NHL] regular season too," Sedin said. "If you're scared of a team your focus is high, but it's tougher to get up for the teams that you maybe should beat. That's going to be a key for us on Sunday."