TORONTO — Team Sweden’s coach Rickard Gronborg preached patience throughout the entire World Cup of Hockey and that’s exactly what we saw from his team.
The only problem? It ended up costing them a spot in the final against Canada.
“We played a patient game thinking it was going to pay off in the end and it didn’t,” Daniel Sedin said after a 3-2 overtime loss to Team Europe in Sunday’s semifinal.
This game must have felt like death by 1,000 paper cuts if you were cheering for Sweden. So much talent; so little offence. For the first 40 minutes, quality scoring chances were as sparse as the crowd at Air Canada Centre. Sweden took their sweet time entering the offensive zone both at even strength and on power plays, their cycle game wasn’t as effective as it usually is, and they were kept on the perimeter by a well-coached Team Europe.
Nicklas Backstrom put Sweden on the board early in the second following a lacklustre opening frame. They bided their time, limited mistakes and found themselves up 1-0. It worked against the Russians and Finns in the round robin, so why wouldn’t it work against Europe too?
“Obviously we need to show patience, and I think we showed patience,” Gronborg said. “What we wanted to do was obviously make sure we don’t get turnovers and we don’t get odd-man rushes against, and I think we did a pretty good job of that tonight. We put ourselves in a position of winning this game.”
The Swedes did fire 39 shots against Jaroslav Halak but it never felt like they were in complete control of this game or on the verge of breaking it open. Too often they let Europe dictate the pace.
Marian Gaborik squeaked a soft one by Henrik Lundqvist during some four-on-four play to make it 1-1 after Mattias Ekholm and Marian Hossa were sent off for roughing minors late in the second period. Earlier on the shift, Daniel Sedin held the puck behind Europe’s net for a solid five seconds before giving it away as he waited for an opening that never emerged.
They weren’t ready at the start of the third when Tomas Tatar poked his own rebound over Lundqvist just 12 seconds into the period. The only time we saw Sweden really pressure teams offensively in this tournament was when they were losing. We saw them battle back and force OT against North America and we saw the same thing Wednesday when Erik Karlsson beat Halak from a distance.
“We got to the semifinals playing this way and we got this game into overtime,” Daniel said. “You could tell in the third when we started pushing the pace we created a lot of chances. We can play both kinds of games [aggressive, patient] and that’s why we felt good going into overtime because we had the game in our hands at that point, I thought.”
Perhaps if we saw more urgency from Sweden when its games were tied, or when they had a lead, we might be talking about how they’d fare against Canada. Instead we’re left examining the wasted potential of a tremendous roster.
With a dozen seconds remaining in regulation, Henrik Sedin elected to pass instead of taking an open shot on a two-on-one down low. The pass was broken up and amounted to nothing but an “ooohh” from the crowd.
“We lost the game obviously, and it’s very disappointing for us,” Victor Hedman said. “We didn’t play well enough, especially not today.”
Many pundits picked Sweden to win this tournament. An elite blue line, a world class goalie, and a strong crop of skilled, two-way forwards.
Sweden simply couldn’t seem to get out of first gear in this tournament. We saw it against Europe and that’s why they’re going home.
Niklas Hjalmarsson summed things up concisely post-game: “Maybe we weren’t as good as we thought we were.”