Sweden, Henrik Lundqvist advance to gold medal game over Finland

SOCHI, Russia – They were two teams that battled through significant losses to injury during their Olympic journey, only to end up playing for the right to compete for a gold medal.

In their semifinal game, Finland didn’t have its best goalie, Tuukka Rask, due to the flu. But Sweden had Henrik Lundqvist, and that made all the difference.

The New York Rangers netminder made 25 saves as Team Sweden advanced to the gold medal game at the Sochi Olympics on Friday, 2-1, to face the winner of the U.S. and Canada. Finland will vie for the bronze on Saturday night against the loser.

This rematch of the 2006 Winter Games gold medal match featured two teams playing well within their systems, but Sweden’s offensive pop broke through with two goals against Kari Lehtonen, Rask’s replacement.

Finland struck first. At 9:17 of the second period, Olli Jokinen streaked down the left wing into the Finnish zone. Henrik Lundqvist hugged the post, but Jokinen’s shot just snuck past him. Referee Tim Peel initially waved off the goal, claiming that he had whistled the play dead before the puck crossed the goal line. Video review decided otherwise, and Finland had a 1-0 lead.

(Keep in mind that the IIHF doesn’t share the NHL’s “intent to blow” rule, in which a referee can end a play in his mind before sounding the whistle.)

Sweden tied the game at 11:39 on a pretty passing play in the Finnish offensive zone. Nicklas Backstrom started the play with a pass to Jonathan Eriksson – the lone non-NHL player on the Swedish roster – who sent the puck to the side of the net where Loui Eriksson was waiting to pop it into an open net. It was a rare miscue from the Finnish defense, which had all five skaters to Lehtonen’s left on the play.

Sweden took the lead with 3:34 remaining in the second. With Jokinen in the box, defenseman Erik Karlsson fired from the point. The puck hit Lehtonen and bounced over him for the 2-1 advantage.

That would be all the Swedes would need. Lundqvist, who had a 1.25 GAA and a .946 save percentage entering the game, confidently turned aside Finnish chances, acting as the backbone for a Swedish penalty kill that thwarted five Finland power plays.

Sweden makes the gold medal game despite missing Henrik Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen due to injury. Finland, meanwhile, upset the Russians on their home ice in the quarterfinals and makes the bronze medal game despite missing their top three centers and, in the semifinal, one of the best goalies in the tournament.