Fast start paces Sweden to opening win
SOCHI -- Sweden needed a little more than 24 minutes to prove its status as gold-medal contenders in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
The Swedes zipped the puck around with ease and scored four goals within the first 24:07 of the game Wednesday, chasing Czech Republic starting goalie Jakub Kovar and giving themselves the cushion they needed for a 4-2 victory in front of a jam-packed and definitely pro-Czech crowd of 11,419 at Bolshoy Ice Dome on the first night of the tournament.
The Czechs made Sweden work for the win during the final 35-plus minutes thanks to a push after New Jersey Devils teammates Marek Zidlicky and Jaromir Jagr scored back-to-back goals midway through the second period. But the Swedes killed three penalties early in the third period and New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist preserved the win by making 27 saves. Lundqvist stopped 15 shots in the third period, including a save on Tomas Kaberle's breakaway.
Sweden's next game in Group C play is Friday against Switzerland (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN). The Czechs play Latvia on Friday (3 a.m. ET, MSNBC, TSN).
Kovar, a surprise starter ahead of Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who didn’t even dress for the game, was pulled in favor of Alexander Salak after giving up three goals on 10 shots in 20:51 of ice time.
Salak gave up a goal to Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson on the first shot he faced but he showed that he likely would have been a better option to start than Kovar. Salak made 14 saves after giving up the goal to Karlsson but it didn’t matter because despite turning up the heat the Czechs couldn't do enough to make up for their early problems.
Sweden looked about as unstoppable as you would expect a gold-medal contender to look during the first 24-plus minutes.
Karlsson scored twice on slap shots through screens, once during a delayed penalty in the first period and again 4:07 into the second. St. Louis Blues center Patrik Berglund scored 13:17 into the first period on a short-side, blocker-side shot off the rush from the left circle, and Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg chased Kovar from the game with his shot through an Alex Steen screen early in the second to make it 3-0.
Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson had assists on Sweden's first two goals.
Karlsson came into the tournament talking a big game about how he wanted to make things happen and be a difference-maker on the back end for the Swedes. He answered the bell not only with his shot but also with his smooth skating and puck movement.
The Czechs had no answer for Sweden's ability to get to the net and create traffic in front of the goalies. They had screens in front of the net nearly every time they had the puck in the zone, creating blind spots for Kovar and Salak and leading to both goals by Karlsson and the one from Zetterberg.
However, the Swedes did show some vulnerability when the Czechs turned it on.
Zidlicky ripped a hard, high slap shot from inside the right circle past Lundqvist to get the Czech Republic on the board. Jagr had only one hand on his stick when he scored his goal 10:01 into the second.
Lundqvist was bumped off his angle by Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who was helped into the Swedish goalie by Montreal Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec's shove. Lundqvist's right pad was pinned so he couldn't kick it out in time to stop Jagr's one-handed shot from the right side.
The Czechs nearly cut the lead down further just before the buzzer sounded to end the second period and they started the third on the power play as Sweden forward Jimmie Ericsson was called for holding at the 20-minute mark of the second.
It was the first of three power plays for the Czechs within the first 8:28 of the third period, but they couldn't make any of them count so they couldn't make up for Sweden's utter domination at the start of the game.