Sweden exacts revenge
by Andrew PODNIEKS|18 MAY 2024
photo: Matt Zambonin/IIHF
Sweden defeated Latvia 7-2 this afternoon in Ostrava to remain a perfect 5-0 atop the Group B standings. The win clinches a playoff spot for Tre Kronor, which now has 15 points and two games remaining. Key to the win was killing a five-minute major to Rasmus Sandin early in the second period.

Latvia’s loss is a big one as they remain in fifth place with a 3-2 record (1-2-0-2), outside the playoff qualifiers. They have two games remaining in the round robin, including a critical one against Slovakia tomorrow. The Slovaks hold down that fourth and final quarter-finals spot with eight points, one more than the Latvians. 

Both teams have tough games on the final day of the preliminary round. Latvia faces the Americans while Slovakia plays Sweden, making tomorrow’s head-to-head battle all the more significant.

Today’s win for Sweden avenges to some degree last year’s QF meeting between the teams when Latvia pulled off a stunning 3-1 upset on their way to bronze.

"Our first period was really good, but early in there second they had a push. Still, overall I thought we had good control of the game," said Jonas Brodin, one of the scorers. "It was 2-2 for a while, but I thought we came back well after that."

"We gave ourselves a great chance in the second and then we get a five-minute power play and we don't do anything," lamented Rodrigo Abols of Latvia. "We lost the momentum there and then started to make bad decisions with the puck. A team like Sweden is going to make you pay. When you have five minutes, you have to at least get shots and keep the momentum. But they killed it off and were off and running."

The Swedes opened the scoring at 4:50 off a Dahlin one-timer from a sharp angle. The feed from the point came from Victor Olofsson. Two minutes later, Tre Kronor doubled its lead on a Brodin goal, his first of the tournament. He snapped a high shot from the slot over Elvis Merzlikins’s glove at 6:58.

Latvia had only four shots on Filip Gustavsson in the opening period, none particularly dangerous, but the second began as if a switch had been turned on. Latvia tied the game with two goals in the first 3:17, scoring twice in a 23-second span.

Captain Kaspars Daugavins, so often the team’s energizer, got the first one, a rebound from a bad angle after a faceoff win in the Sweden end. Then, Roberts Mamcics made a smart play by throwing a puck in front of the net where bodies clogged the area, and sure enough it bounced off the skate of Brodin and in, sending the pro-Latvia crowd into delirium.

But then something happened that doesn’t happen often—the Swedes lost their cool. Dahlin hit Haralds Egle high along the glass, producing a scrum with all ten skaters, and after a video review Dahlin was given a major and game misconduct penalty for charging. It easily could have been called elbowing or a hit to the head.  

The long delay, however, was a double-edged sword for Latvia. It quelled the momentum they had going for them and allowed Sweden to regain their equilibrium. As a result, the power play was ineffective and the Swedish penalty kill perfect.

And once the major expired, Sweden went on a record spree, scoring three goals in 26 seconds to take control. They added a fourth a couple of minutes later to make it 6-2 and chase Merzlikins, who couldn’t much be faulted. All four scores had one thing in common—clear shots from the middle of the slot. Target practise, really.

Fabian Zetterlund scored the first two, 17 seconds apart, the first off a breakout and the second off a turnover in centre ice. Joel Eriksson Ek got the third, to break a record for fastest three goals set by Canada in 1986, and Marcus Pettersson made it 6-2 a couple of minutes later, chasing Merzlikins from the crease as the Latvian bench sat in stunned silence by the turn of events.

"That was a big kill for us when Rasmus got kicked out of the game," Brodin noted. "We got a lot of energy from that, and Fabian scored two goals for us. It was a good game. I think overall we've played tight as a group. We have two more games left, and then we'll see."

The third period featured nine minors, six to Latvia, as the game slowed and Latvia's energy waned. Johansson finished the scoring with a late goal, a high shot over the glove of Eriks Vitols, who was playing his first game of the tournament after replacing Merzlikins in the second.
Latvia vs Sweden - 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship