Key thoughts for Sweden-Slovenia

Mathias Lange

SOCHI, Russia -- Here are some key things to know heading into Sweden's quarterfinal matchup with upstart Slovenia.

This is not a bye for Sweden

The Swedes, by virtue of their No. 1 seed, will enjoy the weakest opponent in the quarterfinals, the surprising Slovenians, and should romp their way to the semifinals.

Oh, wait, isn't that what we thought back in 2002 when a powerful Swedish team squared off with lightly regarded Belarus in the quarterfinals and ended up losing after Vladimir Kopat's long shot bounced off netminder Tommy Salo's head and into the net?

Current Swedish head coach Per Marts said he hasn't mentioned the Belarus upset, nor will he.

"I haven't mentioned it to them because it feels like you're starting up something that these guys haven't even thought about," the coach said. "It's all about us being in charge and not slowing down the pace so that we can take advantage of our speed."

This Swedish team isn't as good as the 2002 squad -- or the one that won gold four years later in Turin -- but it still remains a force in this tournament in spite of the loss of captain Henrik Zetterberg, who aggravated a back injury early on and is gone for the balance of the competition. Couple that with the earlier loss of Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen and the Swedes aren't as formidable down the middle as they were expected to be in Sochi.

That said, they should still have an easy time with the hardworking Slovenians.

The Swedes boast a dangerous power play that is tops in the tournament, going 5-for-13, and they have one of the world's best goaltenders in Henrik Lundqvist. The New York Rangers netminder said the Slovenians are similar to Latvia, a team that gave the Swedes a tough time in their third preliminary-round game.

"They remind me of Latvia. They have technique and speed and live on that," Lundqvist said Tuesday. "We need to have respect for that, and there is a chance it will be similar to the game we had against Latvia, so we really need to be ready."

One potential problem beyond the injuries? The Swedes have taken 13 minor penalties in three games, most in the tournament, and the surefire way to give a lesser opponent life is to give it unnecessary power-play opportunities.

Nothing to lose for Slovenia

For the Slovenians, in their first Olympic tournament, this quarterfinal stuff is all gravy.

"Well, everybody expected us to be the last team of the Olympics, so it's pretty exciting for us to make it top eight," Slovenian forward David Rodman said.

The Slovenians play a fast, aggressive style, and they'll need to employ that if they hope to disrupt a Swedish team with a talented, mobile blue-line corps. They would also need another otherworldly performance from netminder Robert Kristan, who blocked all 30 shots en route to a 4-0 victory over Austria Tuesday and an unexpected quarterfinal berth.

"Yesterday, I was talking to a certain someone who knows a lot about the game of hockey. He said he's been following us the last couple of years and said we've done tremendous work and it's a huge jump from where we were five years ago. To hear that from a guy like that is unbelievable. A guy called Steve Yzerman," said Anze Kopitar, the lone NHLer on the Slovenian team and the son of the team's head coach, Matjaz Kopitar.

The Los Angeles Kings center was back in the lineup Tuesday and scored the first goal against Austria after missing the final period of Sunday's game against the United States with a stomach virus. Kopitar will have to be at his best and will be playing big minutes in the hopes of putting a scare into the Swedes.

The game plan is pretty simple, said Rodman, who had two assists Tuesday.

"We've got nothing to lose," he said, "so we just want to play our system well, make as less mistakes as we can and capitalize on our chances and work our ass off."

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