Joel has one Ek of a game
by Andrew PODNIEKS|10 MAY 2024
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Matt Zambonin
Sweden started its 2024 Men’s World Championship with a solid 5-2 win over the United States tonight in Ostrava. 

The U.S. had won the previous two meetings, both in overtime, but this was settled in regulation 60 and salted with two empty-net goals in the final minute.. 

The game featured two goalies making their senior debuts. Alex Lyon, undrafted but an NHLer since 2017 thanks to his perseverance, was playing his first game wearing USA colours, while at the other end Filip Gustavsson, a third goalie at the 2018 WM, was also seeing action with Tre Kronor for the first time, although he had played with the U18 and U20 teams early in his career.

"It's always nice to represent your country," Gustavsson began. "It's a dream, and you're always nervous for the first game. You never know what to expect, but it was great fun out there."

"It felt good," Lyon said. "I was just trying to get comfortable. It's been two weeks since our season ended, but we have a really good team here and I thought we played well tonight. It's just the start. Gustavsson played really well. I think the first bit was a feeling out process for us, but it's a long tournament."

Joel Eriksson Ek had two goals and an assist for the victors and led all skaters with eight shots on goal. The U.S., meanwhile, played a rare penalty-free game.

"In the first half of the game we played really well, scored three goals, but then we relaxed and din't play to our strengths, and they got a power play and we lost our momentum," Gustavsson continued. "In the beginning, we controlled the puck and used the full width of the ice. They have a very good offensive team, but defensively they're not that strong."

"A win is a win, and it's the first game, so it's important," added Swedish defender Victor Hedman. "Our PK was good. "Gus" was good in net. We got some timely goals, and we had some stretches in the game where we had a lot of good looks and made some nice plays. I think the U.S. team was a littler hungrier in the third, but we weathered the storm."

The Swedes got the only goal of the opening period on a delayed penalty. They maintained control for about half a minute in the U.S. end until Eriksson Ek got the puck in the slot. His wrister under the blocker of Lyon at 8:20 made it 1-0 for the Swedes.

The Americans came out a determined group and nearly tied the game in the first minute of the second, but a hard Seth Jones shot beat Gustavsson only to ring hard off the post and stay out. Sweden soon got its bearings and doubled its lead at 3:45. A puck squirted right to Lucas Raymond in the slot, and his shot beat Lyon over the blocker to make it a 2-0 game.

The Swedes dominated for the next several minutes and could have increased their lead but for some off-target shooting, but their momentum came to an end when Linus Johansson took the game’s first penalty. 

The U.S. power play went to work and was sensational, but again some missed shots and nice saves from Gustavsson kept it a 2-0 game. Not so a few minutes after the penalty had expired. Jones made a nice back pass at the blue line to Zach Werenski, and his long shot beat Gustavsson cleanly at 12:32. 

Soon after, the usually reliable Hedman blew a tire at the U.S. blue line, giving Joel Farabee a clear chance on the break. This time Gustavsson made a fine pad save. That was a significant moment in that the Swedes re-gained their two-goal lead later in the period. 

Marcus Johansson snapped a shot under that Lyon blocker again at 16:39, taking a pass from linemate Pontus Holmberg off the rush. But no U.S. team calls "give" in the second period, and they came back early in the third to make it a one-goal game again. Johnny Gaudreau found Brock Nelson in front, and Nelson's high shot found the back of the net at 3:43.

The Swedes defended beautifully, as they often do, but they encountered a tricky patch at the end when Eriksson Ek took a penalty and Lyon went to the bench for a two-player advantage. Hedman erased any doubt of the outcome with an empty netter and only 58.4 seconds left on the clock.

Eriksson Ek added another into the empty net with 5.5 seconds left to close out the scoring.

Both teams are back at it on the weekend. The Americans play the late game tomorrow against Germany while Tre Kronor faces Poland on Sunday for the first time since 1992.
Sweden vs United States - 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship