International Ice Hockey Federation

Sweden books QF spot

Lundqvist and Backstrom enjoy win

Published 14.05.2017 22:52 GMT+2 | Author Andy Potts
Sweden books QF spot
Henrik Lundqvist and Nicklas Backstrom had their first game of the tournament against Denmark. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Niklas Backstrom bagged two points to lift Sweden to a 4-2 win over Denmark and clinch a quarter-final spot in Sunday's evening game in Cologne.

Sweden brought high-profile reinforcements into its local derby against Denmark – and delivered the victory that confirms its quarter-final spot.

Niklas Backstrom, who flew in from Washington on the morning of the game, claimed a goal and an assist in Sweden’s 4-2 success, while New York Ranger Oscar Lindberg also tallied a point in his first game of the competition. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist, playing alongside his twin brother Joel, shrugged off the after-effects of his flight from New York to backstop the team with 19 saves.

"I felt alright, but not great," Lundqvist admitted after the game. "It's a big rink, my timing's still a bit off and I need a couple of days and a few practices. As the game went on I felt a bit better and obviously we got to spend a lot on the PK so that was good for me. I got to see a lot of how we work together."

But it was two goals from William Nylander late in the second period that took the game beyond a hard-working Danish team and made the Maple Leafs forward his country’s leading scoring with nine points. A rally from Denmark in the third period made things tense before Backstrom wrapped up the win with a late power play goal.

"It was a good win, we needed it," the goalie added. "Maybe it got a bit close at the end but we finished it off on that power play."

With all the hype about the Swedish goalie it was inevitable that the first key play of the game would involved a Lundqvist. The surprise, perhaps, was that it was Joel who made the early impact, opening the scoring in the third minute. Denmark’s Oliver Laurdisen got caught in possession by Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Kruger supplied the feed from behind the net and Lundqvist fired home a wrister from the right circle.

For a time it seemed that Sweden would put the game out of reach early on. William Nylander drew a big save from George Sorensen after leaving Matias Lassen trailing in his wake, then Kruger was almost gifted a shooting chance when Emil Kristensen got tangled up bringing the puck out from behind the net.

Victor Hedman felt that the new faces on the roster contributed to the team's flying start. "We have added some world class players and we're fortunate to have them on the team," he said. "It means a lot for us to get that kind of talent. To get Hank back there to play a game for us, and then Backstrom and Oscar in on three of the four goals, it's a big contribution from them."

Despite yielding the early initiative, Denmark was determined to remind its neighbour that it faced a battle. Nikolaj Ehlers came close to embarrassing the Swedish defence when his blistering pace sent him surging down the left-hand channel. His shot went through Lundqvist’s five-hole only to come back off the post to safety.

And Lundqvist had another moment to shine in the middle session with one of those up-close saves that have become something of a trademark for the New York Ranger. Sent sprawling by Matias Lassen’s deflected shot from the point, Lundqvist reacted smartly to block Morten Poulsen’s attempt on the rebound.

However, the Danes were struggling to get shots on the net – a failing that was painfully visible on a ponderous 5-on-3 power play shortly after the midway point. Sweden killed that penalty with relative ease and, once back to full strength, showed how an incisive offence can function. John Klingberg’s pass picked out Nylander with an astonishing amount of space beyond the Danish D; the forward took advantage to force Sorensen to make his move before steering the puck round the goalie’s outstretched skate.

Lindberg also got an assist on that one, helping him to settle into the tournament. "I was just getting into it in the first period, getting some puck movement and holding onto it," said the forward. "We have a lot of players from North America, good players, and so I think we have a good shot to do well the rest of the way through."

Then Nylander added a third as the second period drew to a close. Describing a huge arc from the boards to the slot, he exchanged passes with Backstrom before roofing the puck from close range to give the Swedes a comfortable advantage.

The third period saw another fine Lundqvist save, this time flinging out a pad to deny Frederik Storm before the goalie was finally beaten in the 50th minute. Oliver Ekman-Larsson lost out to Ehlers and he fed Morten Madsen for a close-range finish to make it 1-3. Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, visiting Cologne to promote next year’s tournament in Copenhagen, finally had a moment to cheer from his countrymen.

It got better for Denmark with four minutes to play. Ehlers, whose lightning pace was always a problem for Sweden's defence, set off again on a dizzying rush around the Swedish end. A drop-off pass for Markus Lauridsen was gobbled up by the Danish D-man and suddenly it was a one-goal game.

"On that second goal we scored you can see that Nik wheels around and they don’t know where the rest of the guys are," said Oliver Lauridsen. "Then my brother went back door to tap it in.

"They scored a couple of goals on mistakes on our part. I thought we had a chance all the way too bad they got a 3-0 lead. "

Danish excitement got the better of the team, though. A slashing call against Julian Jakobsen reversed the game's momentum and Backstrom converted the power play to settle the outcome in Sweden's favour.