Belarus controlled tempo in epic upset of SwedenPosted: Wednesday February 20, 2002 3:44 PM
Updated: Wednesday February 20, 2002 6:45 PM
How better to describe Belarus' stunning 4-3 upset of Sweden than Exhibit A as to why you play the game?
In competition, anything can happen. Especially in single-elimination events. And that is what this game turned into -- an event. And one in which Belarus found a way to slow up the high-flying Swedes between the blue lines.
It didn't begin that way. Sweden looked composed and confident, scoring early on the power play -- one of the Swedes' strengths throughout these games. Then, a freaky stretch of five minutes turned the tone of the proceedings. A short-handed goal followed by a 5-3 power-play goal put Belarus on top 2-1 halfway through the first. If not for goalie Tommy Salo, the Belarussians might have netted more, as the Swedish defensemen went into a collective slumber.
In the second, Belarus continued to grind the pace of play down to a dirge -- perfect for the underdogs, uncomfortable and unnatural-looking for Sweden. Goaltender Andrei Mezin made the tactic payoff, yielding only a power-play goal to Mikael Nylander. So the Belarussians improved their odds by successfully shortening the game, turning it into 20-minute tilt -- always the strategy of the overmatched.
Then in the third, the turnover that couldn't happen did, followed by the save that had to happen and didn't. Defenseman Mattias Ohlund made the gaffe and Salo failed to bail him out. He did make a great save moments later on a short-handed 2-1, robbing Vladimir Tsyplakov. Giving that save more meaning was captain Mats Sundin, who scored on a breakaway after forcing the turnover at the Belarus blue line.
In the end, though, it was Salo's misplay of a center-ice slapshot that turned into the game-winning goal. Belarus was outmanned and outshot ... but not out.
Truly unbelievable, but that's why you play the game.
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.