Mats-er of fact
Sundin continues to lead Sweden through Group CPosted: Sunday February 17, 2002 9:09 PM
Updated: Monday February 18, 2002 12:10 AM
Sweden continued to play brilliant hockey, following up its 5-2 victory over Team Canada on Friday. Many of the same players were central to the Swedes jumping out to a 2-0 second period lead, namely captain Mats Sundin, defenseman Kim Johnsson and goaltender Tommy Salo.
Sundin was a force on every shift, scoring once, while having another disallowed because teammate Tomas Holmstrom was in the crease. Johnsson also scored and was again active in moving up ice to create offensive opportunities. Still, it was Saloís second period that keyed the Swedes' 2-1 lead after 40 minutes. Salo was crisp and composed in repelling the Czech Republicís repeated bids.
Actually, the Czechs picked up the pace after falling behind 2-0, including goaltender Dominik Hasek. He made several sensational saves to keep the Swedes from pulling away. Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias both had excellent looks, only to come up empty.
Despite the fine effort by Jagr, full marks to defenseman Kenny Jonsson for his performance in marking him. Adding to the in-game intrigue, both coaches were content to let the top lines go head-to-head for much of the contest. That led to plenty of chances but also to some frustration on the part of the big names. Jagr took a penalty on Nicklas Lidstrom for holding the stick and pushed a linesman out of the way, as he was trying to flag down a long lead pass.
Meanwhile, Sundin took back-to-back minors in the third Ė one for mugging Martin Skoula and another for grabbing Jagr and twisting him to the ice. Sundinís poor decisions effectively wiped out the five-minute boarding major assessed to Martin Havlat for a hit on Mikael Nylander.
Why all the detail on the penalties and the defensive schemes? Because it underscored what this game was all about -- intensity and taking away the other teamís top offensive weapons. The Czechs took the long lead pass away from the Swedes by tightly packing their up-ice pressure between the bluelines. Sweden thwarted Jagr by marking him with a double team at every turn.
In the end, the Swedes took what the Czechs gave them -- or more accurately, what generating traffic in front of Hasek yielded them -- which wasnít much in the tiltís second half. No matter on this night, as Salo made the two-goal harvest look bountiful.
Goaltender: Salo outperformed Hasek and when that happens, the Czech Republic is vulnerable. Salo was the picture of goaltending precision in this one. He never looked frantic and that calm, casual appearance seemed the perfect backdrop to, and maybe the source of, the teamís confident effort in all phases.
Defenseman: Itís impossible to pick just one from Team Sweden. So, Jonsson and Lidstrom share top billing for shutting down Jagr, who was coming off a four-point effort against Germany. Both players were stellar and it afforded Sweden flexibility to mark Jagr even when he double shifted.
Forward: Ulf Dahlen patrolled the wing opposite Jagr, often supplying the double team. He was also effective on the forecheck, especially on Sundinís game-winning goal. Jagr and Dahlen are NHL teammates with the Washington Capitals. On this night, they were adversaries. And in this game, defense reigned supreme.
Darren Eliot, a former NHL goaltender, is a hockey analyst for CNN/Sports Illustrated and will provide Olympic hockey commentary throughout the Games for CNNSI.com.