Team Sweden defeated top-seed Team Canada Sunday at the 2017 IIHF Men’s World Championships. The Canadians rolled past Germany and Russia for the privilege to play in the Gold-medal game while Sweden advanced over Switzerland and Finland to receive the bid for Sunday’s Finals.
Both teams were scoreless in the first period despite a couple of power play opportunities for the Swedes. Special teams play would a major role in the little amount of scoring in the tilt. With 21 seconds remaining in the second on the kill, Victor Hedman backhand-shoveled a puck from near the Canadian blue line towards backstop Calvin Pickard after Canada failed to set up an attack. The puck eluded everyone in its path, including two players in yellow and blue (Marcus Kruger and Joel Lundqvist) before sneaking past Pickard through the wickets. Pickard anticipated a tip from either Swede, but the puck merely bounced on the ice a couple times before finding its way into the back of the net.
At 1:48 into the third, Swedish defenseman Elias Lindholm got called for high sticking on Travis Konecny. A closer look on the replay reveals that Konecny should have been tabbed for embellishment. Nevertheless, 10 seconds into the man-advantage, Ryan O’Reilly buried a loose puck in tight past Henrik Lundqvist to the game at one.
The final buzzer in regulation sounded with the score still 1-1. Despite 11 shots for Canada and 10 for Sweden in overtime, after 20 bonus minutes of play, the Gold-medal game would have to be decided in a shootout. After 80 minutes of play, shots on goal totaled 43 for Canada and 42 for Sweden.
The five-round shootout format mathematically only required four shooters per side as Sweden scored two goals and Canada was blanked on all four shots. Nicklas Backstrom scored the medal-clinching goal from the two-spot and Oliver Ekman-Larsson added an insurance goal at number three. The pressure was on for Mitch Marner of Team Canada who had to score as the fourth shooter to keep Canada’s hopes alive, but was denied by Lundqvist just like the three Canadians before him.
Overall, it was a terrific matchup and feel-good ending to the 2017 IIHF Men’s World Championships. King Henrik got to celebrate a victory after being eliminated prematurely by the Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And he had the opportunity to do it with his brother, Team Sweden Captain, Joel. However, I have two problems with Sunday’s final.
First, Konecny should be ashamed of himself. After coming off the bench early in the second period, he totally embellished a high sticking call on Elias Lindholm. A close look at the replay shows that Lindholm’s stick did not come high enough to hit Konecny in the face. And even if it did, it was not raised with enough force to warrant the reaction from Konecny. Hockey players pride themselves on being the toughest athletes in the world. Konecny’s behavior was unbecoming of a hockey player. Sure, Canada scored on the subsequent power player. But the hockey gods were watching. The final score was poetic.
My second issue with the game was the ending. A Gold-medal game being decided by a shootout is incredibly anti-climactic. Sure, it worked for Disney in The Mighty Ducks. But after the players battle for 80 minutes in a tight 1-1 game, it’s very unfortunate to decide a close matchup with a showcase of individual one-on-one skills. While this is not the first time a Gold-medal game was decided in this fashion, and this is a way for the IIHF to differentiate itself from traditional North American hockey, I’m sure most fans would rather see more overtime hockey as the NHL implements during its annual tournament. Then again, the Men’s World Championships takes place in Europe most of the time and only two teams hail from North America.
Team Russia defeated Team Finland 5-3 for the Bronze medal. Russia’s Artemi Panarin led all tournament players with 17 points. William Nylander was named tournament MVP. Nylander led Team Sweden with 14 points.
The Tre Konor ended the tournament with the best penalty-killing percentage (90.32%). This is a testament to the outstanding defensive play exhibited by the Swedes and terrific goaltending from Lundqvist who joined the squad after the New York Rangers were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The 35-year old netminder registered a goals-against average of 1.31 and a 94.57 save percentage through five games played. King Henrik was named Sweden’s best player of the game for the final matchup as well as the quarterfinals game against the Swiss where he turned aside 26 out of 27 shots on goal.
Congratulations to Sweden, the 2017 Men’s World Champions!