GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - A diving shot by Patrik Zackrisson proved the difference as Sweden edged Finland 3-1 on Sunday to claim the men’s Olympic ice hockey tournament’s top seeding going into the knockout rounds.
In a renewal of their fierce Nordic rivalry, Sweden were able to get just enough of an upper hand to prevail in a close, physical game featuring a number of big hits and limited scoring opportunities for either team.
The Swedes, winners of two Olympic gold medals in hockey, have won three straight games, collecting nine points in the group stage. They get a bye directly into the quarter-finals as the top-ranked team in the standings.
Anton Lander got Sweden on the board first with a breakaway goal. After Swedish goalie Viktor Fasth stopped a hard shot, Linus Omark picked up the rebound, streaked up the right side and fed it ahead to his left to a wide-open Lander, and the former Edmonton Oiler snapped it past goaltender Mikko Koskinen.
Finland, who have won a medal in three straight Olympics but have never earned a gold, evened the score early in the second. Miika Koivisto attempted a backhander from close to the net but it got deflected off a Swedish stick and wobbled over Fasth’s shoulder. Joonas Kemppainen reached behind the goaltender and tapped it over the line.
In the third period it was Zackrisson’s acrobatics that put the Swedes on top to stay.
Johan Fransson blasted a hard shot from the point and Koskinen gave up a big rebound. Zackrisson dived at the loose puck and managed to get his stick on it, lifting it over the goaltender’s outstretched glove.
“I tried to jump at it, I tried to reach it and I got my stick on it, so it felt good,” Zackrisson said. “It’s pretty cool to score in the Olympics.”
“We wanted to win the group, and we win the group so that’s what it’s been all about, so now we can focus for the quarter-final.”
Oscar Moller made it 3-1 with an empty-net goal with five seconds to go.
The game was emblematic of the long and hard-checking rivalry between the two Northern European neighbors, with a number of shoving matches and big hits.
In the first period, Swedish defender Jonas Ahnelov took a blow to the head on a heavy body check from Finland’s Petri Kontiola and was clearly shaken up. He was later led to the dressing room and did not return to the ice during the game.
Editing by Clare Fallon