Sweden holds off Latvia for third straight win
SOCHI -- Sweden completed play in Group C with a perfect record, but the gold medal contenders are far from perfect in the way they are playing.
Sweden won Group C with a 5-3 win against Latvia at Shayba Arena on Saturday in a game where defenseman Alexander Edler made his debut at the 2014 Sochi Olympics after serving his two-game suspension with the International Ice Hockey Federation.
After losing captain Henrik Zetterberg to injury after one game and center Henrik Sedin before the Olympics, the return of Edler was at least some good news for Sweden on the lineup front.
|Nicklas Backstrom celebrates after a goal by Alexander Edler #23 against Kristers Gudlevskis #50 of Latvia in the third period during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group C game on day eight of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Shayba Arena on February 15, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by MRR/Getty Images)
"It was fun. Finally I got to play," Edler said. "It's something I was looking forward to for a long time."
But forward Carl Hagelin left the game with an injury and Sweden struggled to defeat Latvia, needing a Henrik Lundqvist save on a Martins Karsums breakaway to avoid being tied 4-4 with under nine minutes to play in regulation.
A little over a minute later, Edler scored to make it 5-3 and send Sweden into the quarterfinals with a 3-0-0 record in group play.
"You've got to give them a lot of credit for how they played this game," said Sweden defenseman Erik Karlsson, who had a goal and an assist to complete group play with five points in three games. "I think they shocked us a little bit and they had a good power play as well. That's what happens in these short tournaments. There's so many good nations right now that you can't take anything for granted anymore."
Karlsson began the tournament playing with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, a defensive pairing that was the biggest offensive threat in Sochi.
With Edler's return, however, he was slotted next to Karlsson and Ekman-Larsson barely played against Latvia with 7:06 of ice time, lowest among Sweden's defensemen.
"We want to give Alex an opportunity to play in that position," Sweden associate coach Rikard Gronberg said. "I think Oliver has another step, for sure. I think he can step up a little bit. Obviously Erik is producing offensively, as you can see. They're both very talented players. But we just wanted to give Alex an opportunity to play in that position. I think he did real well."
Sweden swept Group C, but it wasn't easy.
The Swedes began the tournament with an underwhelming 4-2 win against the Czech Republic before beating Switzerland 1-0 and allowing winless Latvia to hang around for so long.
With three days off before the quarterfinals, Sweden has some time to try and fix whatever isn't working and fine tune some areas of the team's game.
"I think we have to step it up big time before the next game," said center Patrik Berglund. "We haven't played well at all, I think. I think we struggled against Switzerland, and we struggled even more [Saturday]. They are really good teams but we got to play better, and we haven't. We've been winning the games, but we haven't played well."