Czechs beat Swedes to play for gold
by Chris JUREWICZ|25 MAY 2024
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Matt Zambonin
Sweden was near perfect throughout the 2024 IIHF World Championship.

Through eight games, including a 2-1 win over Finland in the quarter-final, the Swedes hadn’t trailed. And in the first period in its semi-final against Czechia on Saturday, the streak continued for one more period as the two teams were tied 2-2 after 20 minutes.

But, in the second, the wheels came off, the floodgates opened (take your cliché and insert it here) and Sweden’s streak came to a disastrous end. Not only did Czechia become the first team to take a lead on the powerful Swedes but the Czechs did so with authority, scoring three goals in a span of 2:58 to take a 5-2 lead and chase Filip Gustavsson from the Swedish net. Czechia went on to win the game 7-3 to move on to the gold medal game for the first time since winning the 2010 Worlds in Germany.

"It was a tough start. We bounced back and then they scored right away again and then we bounced back again," said Czechia's Martin Necas of a back-and-forth first. "The second period was great. I felt like we played a great game there. (Goaltender Lukas) Dostal was great again. It’s a pretty special feeling to play in this rink, the fans are supporting us so much and they’re the sixth player on the ice for us."

Czechia will now attempt to win Worlds gold on home ice for the first time since it was known as Czechoslovakia in 1985.

Sweden hadn’t allowed a goal in the first period all tournament long, had never trailed and hadn’t allowed more than two goals in one hockey game. All of those feats came to an end during Sweden’s loss to Czechia and the Swedes will now play for bronze.

"They were mentally stronger than we were today," said Sweden captain Erik Karlsson. "They scored on pretty much all of the opportunities they got, if not all of them. Just at the key moments, they were stronger than we were today.  It’s unfortunate but that’s the way it is sometimes."

Necas, with a goal and three assists, and Dominik Kubalik (two goals, one assist) helped lead the way offensively for the Swedes but it was two third-period goals by Lukas Sedlak (who also had an assist) that sent the entire Prague Arena – perhaps the entire country – into a frenzy and the party was on. Sedlak scored two goals, both on breakaways using the same forehand-to-backhand move and the crowd erupted for both. Sedlak put his third into an empty net in the last minute, with dozens of hats coming onto the ice but, unfortunately, the goal was called off due to an offside.

The sold-out Prague Arena for this semi-final helped Czechia set a new tournament attendance record at these Worlds, shattering the previous mark of 741,690 fans that was also set by Czechia in 2015.

Sedlak’s first goal, which came five minutes into the third, was Czechia’s sixth of the game, the most it has scored against Sweden in a Worlds game in post-Czechoslovakia history. The Czechs scored five goals in a 6-5 shootout loss to Sweden in 2015 and in a 5-2 win over the Swedes in 2019.

Czechia took a 5-2 lead into the third period.

Ondrej Kase’s goal at 6:05 of the second period broke a 2-2 tie and Czechia made it 4-2 when Necas scored his first of the tournament after a quick shot off a faceoff win. Kubalik’s second of the game at 9:03 made it 5-2 Czechia and prompted Sweden head coach Sam Hallam to make the goaltending change, with Samuel Ersson replacing Gustavsson, who allowed five goals on 17 shots.

"We just gave them too much," said Sweden's Marcus Pettersson. "We knew coming in that they’re a great rush team and they like to create off the turnovers. And us being too aggressive up ice and losing guys … against a quick transition team. We gave them too much of that today."

Sweden wasn’t about to go away quietly, though, as it struck on a powerplay with 4:30 left in the second as Joel Eriksson Ek found open ice in the slot and fired a shot post in that beat Dostal.

The first period featured four goals in the first 10 minutes.

Marcus Johansson’s tremendous tournament continued as he struck just 3:39 in to give Sweden a 1-0 lead. Following a Czechia turnover in its own end, Johansson took the puck and drove to the slot, where he snapped a quick shot over the glove of Lukas Dostal. It was Johansson’s fifth goal and 10th point.

Four minutes later, the pro-Czechia crowd came to life when the home team tied the game. Necas blasted a one-timer from the point that Gustavsson saved, but the rebound was up for grabs and Kubalik jammed it in.

The tie game was short-lived, however, as Marcus Pettersson once again gave Sweden a lead as he put the puck in off a Czech defender’s skate. The goal came just 20 seconds after Czechia had tied the game.

Once again, Czechia struck back quickly as David Kampf scored his first of the tournament 1:29 after Pettersson’s goal. Kampf found some open ice in the slot, took a pass from Necas and took a low shot that hit a Swedish player’s skate and beat Gustavsson.

Czechia's Radko Gudas said the win showed his team can win in many different ways, be it in low-scoring or high-scoring games.

"It showed the resilience of the group. We’re playing a team game, we’re there for each other, we help each other out," he said. "We’re trying to talk as much as possible, although not much is heard out there because the crowd is so loud. It speaks to the character of the group, that we won’t give up and we’re there for each other. We can find a way to win games many ways."

Sweden outshot Czechia 40-23 but Dostal was strong in goal and made 37 saves. The Swedes will attempt to win a medal at Worlds for the first time since 2018, when they won gold. Czechia is now guaranteed at least silver, with its last medal coming in 2022 when it won bronze.
Sweden vs Czechia (SF) - 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship