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Team Sweden

Team Sweden responds right way

Executes game plan against Team Russia after loss in pretournament finale

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

TORONTO -- They said it was just a blip, a necessary lesson that could serve as a blessing in disguise.

They were right.

With almost surgical-like precision, Team Sweden smothered Team Russia's forwards, stayed aggressive on its defensemen and played a near perfect game in a 2-1 win in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 preliminary round opener for both teams at Air Canada Centre on Sunday.

That Team Sweden's performance Sunday was night and day from how it played in its final pretournament game, a 6-2 loss to Team Europe at Verizon Center on Wednesday, backed the feelings and opinions the players and coaches shared less than 24 hours after the debacle that didn't count.

They all said that turnover and mistake filled performance was out of character, a result of jet lag, carelessness and just basically wanting to get out of Washington whole, without any injuries or significant issues. They called it embarrassing and said they'd use it as motivation.

Video: SWE@RUS: Hedman puts home feed from Hagelin in 2nd

"That's what we said after that game, that this is not going to happen again," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "I knew right after that game we were not going to play like that again."

They played so well Sunday that it made you forget that they even had that performance against Team Europe. It made you forget that backup goalie Jacob Markstrom was in net instead of Henrik Lundqvist, who was ill and unable to play.

They played their game plan to a T and forced Team Russia play right into their hands for almost the full 60 minutes.

"I don't think they're a team that likes to dump and chase," Stralman said, "and I think we did a good job at making them do that."

They did so by protecting the puck, not necessarily by cycling and dominating zone time, but by preventing Team Russia from getting any freebies the way Team Europe got in that last pretournament game.

"I can't pull from the top of my head any bad turnovers we made that they got a good chance out of from the rush," Stralman said. "That's a job well done for us."

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

Team Russia didn't get much off the rush at all because Team Sweden's defensemen and forwards prevented its forwards from attacking with speed.

It couldn't connect passes through the neutral zone. It couldn't hit a stretch pass. When Team Russia did get into the zone, it couldn't generate second-chance opportunities. Team Sweden wouldn't allow it.

"Our game plan was to not really give them any Grade A chances. I think we accomplished that," defenseman Erik Karlsson said. "I think we can incorporate the defense maybe a little bit more in the offense, but when that game comes, when that time comes have the guys to do it and we don't really have to practice it.

"Today it was a tight game and they make a lot of quick transitions and we knew that we couldn't really cheat and jump up. All the Ds stayed home and I think at the end of the day, that's what won this game."

When the time was right though, Team Sweden's defensemen did activate by joining the rush or make itself available for scoring chances. That's how Victor Hedman scored the game-winning goal at 12:52 of the second period, by coming off the bench, seeing the opportunity, and darting straight toward the net.

He scored on a one-timer from between the circles because he never stopped skating. Hedman also led Team Sweden with 22:54 of ice time and was voted the First Star of the Game.

"Hedman is a horse; you saw it [Sunday]," Team Sweden coach Rikard Gronborg said. "He played all kinds of different situations, and now I know why he's so highly regarded. I knew that before, but now he's proven to everyone back at home in Sweden that this is how good he is. It was nice for me to see Victor have that kind of a game."

That Hedman was good enough to stand out above the rest of his teammates Sunday is further indication of how good he was, because everyone around him was pretty darn special too.

"We played to our fullest for the full 60 minutes," Hedman said. "I'm very proud of the effort."

It almost went for naught in the final minute, when Team Russia forward Alex Ovechkin scored at 19:27 and nearly had another goal at 19:51. His second was waved off because it was ruled that he batted the puck into the net with his hand. Video review confirmed the call on the ice.

"I was crossing my fingers and toes that it wouldn't count," Markstrom said. "We got a little lucky there, but I think we deserved it. Over 60 minutes, we were the better team and we had a great game plan and every player executed."

Bang on.

Team Sweden looked like a team of misfits five days ago; careless in its approach, mindless in its execution, lost. It looked like a well-oiled machine Sunday; clean, energetic, nearly flawless.

The team that showed up Sunday can win this tournament.

"Playing as well as we did really it makes me confident that we can make a bang in this tournament for sure," Gronborg said.

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