Stealth Swedes soar again


SOCHI, Russia -- They've been banged-up, written off and generally ignored in these Olympics, but guess where the talented Swedes are headed?

That's right, back to a gold-medal game.

In a battle of two injury-depleted lineups, it was Sweden punching its ticket to Sunday's finale by taking a page out of the Finns' historic playbook and stifling them 2-1 in a tight-checking, low-impact affair.

"When the last horn went, it was a great feeling because we played collected and as a group," St. Louis Blues forward Alexander Steen said after Friday's win. "I think we've grown, kind of gone about our way almost a little quietly throughout the tournament but continued to grow, and we know what we have in the room and I think that's what has impressed me the most is how we just focused on what's going on in there. Nothing out here has ever come in there."

The Swedes will take on the winner of Friday's highly anticipated Canada-United States semifinal. The Finns will face the loser in the bronze-medal game Saturday night.

"There's no pressure," Steen said, "just high expectations on us and that comes from within. We're just constantly reminding each other. Just the things we're doing on the ice are sending such good signals to the rest of the guys on the bench. This is a collective thing, and I'm really proud of our guys tonight."

The Swedes have now won five straight games at this tournament, and though they continue to struggle to put up big offensive numbers, especially at even strength, they showed they have lots of heart, erasing a 1-0 Finland lead midway through the second period with two goals in less than five minutes. They then performed almost a perfect shutdown of the Finns, allowing only eight shots in the third period, mostly from the perimeter.

In the final minutes, they were a yellow-and-blue wall, protecting goalie Henrik Lundqvist and foiling the Finns' efforts to get their goalie, Kari Lehtonen, to the bench for an extra attacker.

"When you're realizing you're going to get a chance to win another gold, it's an amazing feeling," said Lundqvist, who has been perhaps the best goalie in this tournament, stopping all but six shots in Sweden's five games.

His performance thus far must be gratifying, given that the Swedes were unceremoniously dumped in the quarterfinals in Vancouver four years ago.

"They had a few chances throughout the game, but overall we played a really solid game and I think we played our best so far in this tournament," said Lundqvist, the former Vezina Trophy winner. "I hope we saved our best for last. We're going to need it. We're going to play one of the better teams Sunday, Canada or U.S., I think they are extremely skilled teams and you have to respect that. But tonight it's all about enjoying this moment and then tomorrow we slowly start preparing for Sunday."

The Finns were coming off an inspired 3-1 win over host Russia in the quarterfinal, while the Swedes had not yet played any of the top teams in the tournament, beating the Czech Republic, Latvia, Switzerland and Slovenia.

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