A packed Malmö Arena witnessed a hard-fought Saturday afternoon clash as host Sweden downed the Finns 4-2. Jacob de la Rose got the winner in the second period.
Sometimes Sweden-Finland rivalry games don’t live up to the hype, turning into “wait and see” affairs. It quickly became apparent that this wouldn’t be the case today. High-tempo, aggressive hockey ruled the day in front of 11,604 fans - another new World Junior attendance record for an IIHF U20 game in Sweden.
Alexander Wennberg led the way with two goals and an assist, and Andreas Johnson added a goal and an assist in Sweden’s second straight win.
"It's a great win for us," said de la Rose. "We deserved to win this game."
Esa Lindell and Rasmus Ristolainen scored for Finland. Captain Teuvo Teräväinen provided two helpers.
Finnish goalie Ville Husso made his tournament debut, while Sweden’s Oscar Dansk got his second straight start. Sweden outshot Finland 30-20.
Elias Lindholm played his first game of the tournament for Sweden. The 19-year-old Carolina Hurricanes forward centred a line with de la Rose and captain Filip Forsberg.
"It probably wasn’t my best game," said Lindholm. "I feel like I have a lot of room to improve. It’s my first game in about two and a half weeks."
The Finns came out hard and their offensive zone pressure paid off. Just 41 seconds in, after a wild goalmouth scramble with Dansk bobbling the puck, Finland went up 1-0. Artturi Lehkonen provided the screen as Lindell’s center point slapper, set up by Teräväinen, found the back of the net.
Sweden got an early two-man advantage and didn’t take long to capitalize. Wennberg scored into the open net on Husso’s stick side at 4:15 to make it 1-1. The expert puck movement leading up to that sequence, with everyone participating, was reminiscent of Tomas Sandström’s famous “golden goal” for Sweden at the 1987 IIHF World Championship.
Anton Karlsson, Sweden’s youngest player, sparked the home side midway through the opening frame with his physical, agitating approach.
Late in the first period, Sweden ran into penalty trouble. The Finns got a 4-on-3, followed by a 5-on-4 and a 5-on-3, but couldn’t capitalize. Dansk stymied Saku Mäenalanen on a great chance from the slot. At the other end, savvy Swedish forechecking nearly gave Oscar Sundqvist a shorthanded goal when he got free alone in front of Husso.
After failing to capitalize on multiple man advantages, Sweden finally grabbed a 2-1 lead with 5:56 left in the second period. Wennberg centered the puck from behind the goal line to Sebastian Collberg, who couldn’t beat Husso, but Johnson was there to slide the rebound into the gaping net.
Moments later, proving the adage that “it’s a game of inches,” the Finns came oh-so-close to equalizing on the power play when a Ristolainen drive dinged off the post and trickled along the line.
"Of course it’s frustrating. Some times it’s the small things. We hoped it would go in but it didn’t. It was a Sweden home game, so that’s why it didn’t go in, I think," Teräväinen said with a wry laugh.
Sweden went up 3-1 at 16:19. Forsberg lost the puck on the rush against Finnish defenders, but de la Rose was there to hammer the disc past Husso on the stick side from the faceoff circle.
"I gave it to Filip in the middle, he left it, and I shot and it went in," said de la Rose. "It’s a good feeling."
The ice clearly tilted in the Swedes’ favour in the second period, where they enjoyed a 14-5 edge in shots on goal.
Ristolainen gave the Finns new life just 45 seconds into the third period, when, with the teams playing 4-on-4, he charged to the net to shovel his own rebound past Dansk and cut the deficit to 3-2.
At 8:27, Wennberg restored Sweden's two-goal edge when he circled out to the center point and wristed a long one that eluded Husso.
"We had a lot of scoring chances, but we just have to use those scoring chances better," said Ristolainen. "Today they used their chances better than us."
The yellow-clad crowd clapped rhythmically as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
The atmosphere was electric even before puck drop. Fans waved Swedish flags to the strains of “En För Alla För En,” Sweden's 2013 IIHF World Championship theme song, and cheered “Foppa!” for the legendary Peter Forsberg, who came out on a red carpet and received a special video tribute on the scoreboard.
"It’s amazing," Lindholm said. "The crowd is awesome and it helps us a lot to create more energy."
When Sweden and Finland last squared off, at the 2013 tournament, Tre Kronor won 7-4 and sent the Finns to relegation play.
The result gives the Swedes the slimmest of advantages in the all-time World Junior rivalry between these Nordic foes. Sweden now has 15 wins, 14 losses, and two ties.
On Sunday, Sweden takes on winless Norway, while the Finns face Russia on Monday.
"We need to win that game," said Teräväinen. "We have a day off tomorrow, so we’ll get some rest before Russia, and put everything into that game and hope to win."
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)