After a disappointing 4-3 shootout loss to Denmark last night, Switzerland had absolutely no choice but to rebound quickly today. With just 4 points through three games in Group B, the Swiss would require at least a point to guarantee themselves a spot in the quarter-finals. A flat out loss could very well spell the end of their tournament, with the threat of relegation hanging over their heads. A regulation loss combined with a Czech Republic victory over Russia in the late afternoon game would drop them to last in the group, and into the relegation round.
For Sweden, the scenario is totally dissimilar. Top spot in Group B has already been clinched, making this game more of a formality. However, it remained critical they avoid an emotional let down. Finishing the group stage strong is essential, while paying attention to detail and evading the development of bad habits is key.
Switzerland came out absolutely flying and appeared primed for a big effort after last night's emotional let down. Captain Yannick Rathgeb gave the Swiss an early 1-0 lead as he scored on a wobbly shot from the point that fooled Swedish goaltender Linus Soderstrom.
Starting every game thus far, Soderstrom's numbers have been very impressive. In his first three starts, he posted a solid .936 save percentage to go with a 1.67 goals against average. That said, Sweden's fabulous five man defensive strategy in their own end has played a pivotal role in the strength of the aforementioned numbers. Soderstrom has had a couple of sloppy moments in the tournament. If Sweden's defensive strategy breaks down (as we saw at times versus Russia) against a more physical and skilled team like Canada and the United States, they could be in trouble.
Although Switzerland looked good for most of the first period, Sweden finished strong. Los Angeles Kings top prospect Adrian Kempe ripped home his third power play goal of the tournament, taking a pass from power play specialist Gustav Forsling. The goal gives Kempe 5 points in just three games. The 6-foot-1 forward looks legit. All and all it was an even period that ended with a 1-1 score.
It has been said countless times (by me in particular) that in order to have any chance at defeating Sweden, you must play a physical but disciplined brand of hockey. Providing them any time with the man advantage is strongly advised against. Clearly Switzerland didn't get the message. After a strong first period, things quickly unravelled.
An early Swiss penalty proved to halt any of the momentum gained in the opening frame. Toronto Maple Leafs top prospect William Nylander made a nice pass to Oskar Lindblom for another quick power play goal off the draw. Lindblom then scored his second goal of the game moments later to give Sweden a 3-1 lead. Nylander added another assist on the play, giving him six points in the tournament.
It would only get worse from there. Swiss captain Yannick Rathgeb delivered a very late hit to the head of Anton Blidh, injuring him on the play. Rathgeb was assessed a five minute major for charging and a game misconduct. It would be safe to assume his tournament is done as well. Sweden took full advantage of yet another opportunity on the power play. Oskar Lindblom tipped home a Gustav Forsling shot for the hat trick, giving the Swedes a three goal lead. The 18-year-old Philadelphia Flyers prospect takes over the tournament lead (for now) with 3 goals and 4 assists for 7 points.
Just 26 seconds later, Jens Looke got in on the action, scoring on the man advantage to give Sweden a commanding 5-1 lead. With the goal, the power play unit moved to 4 for 4 in the game. They're now a ridiculous 9 for 19 in the tournament and an even more insane 25 for 63 over their last 17 games at the World Juniors combined. That's 39.6%. In case the message hasn't been drilled home yet: Stop taking penalties against the Swedes!
Sweden would go on to win by the aforementioned score, victorious in all four games of the group stage. They're clearly, as anticipated, a gold medal favourite. For the Swiss, all they can do now is sit back, wait, temporarily cheer for the Russians and hope that their tournament isn't over yet. However, with the likely suspension of captain Yannick Rathgeb, it doesn't look good either way.