Sweden going for elusive world junior gold
Solves Slovakian goalie sensation Janus with 3rd period explosion at Ottawa
Sweden scored three goals in a four-minute, 28-second span in the third period to erase a 2-1 deficit on the way to a 5-3 semifinal win over Slovakia at the world junior hockey championship on Saturday afternoon.
Calgary Flames prospect Mikael Backlund scored twice to lead the Swedes, who will attempt to win their first gold medal since 1981 on Monday night against Canada (7:30 p.m. ET) at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa.
"We knew what we were doing, we knew Slovakia is a good team," said Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman, a potential first overall pick at this summer's NHL entry draft. "They were up 2-1 before the last period, but we knew we were a stronger team than them and they had a tough game [Friday]. It wasn't necessary to be nervous."
Slovakian goaltender Jaroslav Janus, coming off a 44-save performance in a shocking 5-3 quarter-final victory over the United States, stopped 47 shots on Saturday, but watched his teammates begin to tire in the third period against a determined Swedish outfit.
"We could have won this game, but in the third period, we stopped playing for five minutes and they scored four goals," said Janus, the Erie Otters goalie who went unpicked in last June's NHL draft. "It's pretty sad, but we have another game and hopefully we'll get a bronze medal.
"We played well, but when you lose, it's still a bad feeling."
After Backlund tied the game 2-2 at 7:04 of the third, David Ullstrom and Simon Hjalmarsson gave Sweden a two-goal cushion with eight minutes left in regulation.
But the Slovaks, who stunned the United States with a 5-3 quarter-final victory and earlier knocked Finland from medal contention, didn't go quietly.
With 4:20 left on the clock, head coach Stefan Mikes pulled Janus and watched Tomas Tatar fire the puck into an open net 18 seconds later to cut Sweden's lead to 4-3.
But Oscar Moller secured the Swedes' second consecutive appearance in the gold-medal contest with his first goal of the tournament, into an empty net with 77 seconds left on the clock.
"We were patient and worked hard the whole game," said Backlund. "We saw them play the American team and we knew if they got the first goal they would be hard to beat and they were hard to beat."
Later Saturday, Jordan Eberle and John Tavares scored in the shootout to lead the Canadians to a 6-5 win over Russia.
Moller and company will try to avenge a 3-2 overtime loss to Canada in last year's championship game. Forward Matt Halischuk scored at 3:36 of the extra frame in Pardubice, Czech Republic, to lift the Canadians to their fourth straight gold and 14th overall.
"I played in the final last year, but this is incredible with the fans here," Backlund said of the announced crowd of 18,112 at Scotiabank Place.
Sweden, which posted a come-from-behind 4-3 win over Canada in the preliminary round to end a streak of 20 wins in a row for Canadian junior teams at the worlds, earned its first medal since losing to the red and white in the final at the 1996 event in Boston.
The Swedes enter Monday's final winless in five meetings against Canada in the medal round. Their lone title in this tournament came 28 years ago in Germany.
Slovakia, which hasn't medalled at the world juniors since it collected bronze at Winnipeg in 1999, failed to build on 1-0 and 2-1 advantages on Saturday.
Marek Mertel scored his first goal of the tourney with four seconds left in the opening period while Janus, who has fashioned a .938 save percentage in his past three starts, was unbeatable until Backlund notched his fourth goal of the tournament midway through the second period.
But Slovakia regained the lead, thanks to some hard work along the boards by Mertel, who kept the puck in the Sweden zone. He then fed the puck to Tartar, who drove the net and beat Jacob Markstrom with a high shot to the short side.
The Swedes thought they had a buzzer-beater as Nichlas Torp's point blast went in at the end of the period, but a video review showed time had expired.
Elsewhere Saturday, Teemu Hartikainen scored twice and added three assists as Finland shelled Kazakhstan 7-1 in a relegation round matchup.
Finland (2-0) plays Germany (1-1) and Latvia faces Kazakhstan (0-2) on Sunday.
With files from the Canadian Press