Vancouver, British Columbia — Daniel Alfredsson scored twice as defending champion Sweden beat Belarus 4-2 on Friday at the Vancouver Olympics, avoiding a monumental upset loss like that in 2002.
Daniel Sedin, playing in his National Hockey League home arena, and Johan Franzen, part of what might be hockey’s best fourth line, added goals as Sweden took what looked to be a safe 3-0 lead. But Belarus, despite generating few offensive rushes and scoring chances, got two goals from Dmitri Meleshko to make it close.
Sweden didn’t finish it off until Alfredsson, held without a point in an opening 2-0 victory over Germany, scored with 10.4 seconds remaining.
Too close for the Swedes, who have spent eight years wondering how they could have possibly lost 4-3 to Belarus in Salt Lake City — in what was the Olympics’ biggest upset since the U.S. beat the Soviet Union in 1980.
“I think we got a little scared in the end,” said Swedish forward Peter Forsberg, who was there in 2002.
Belarus, with only two NHL players to Sweden’s 19, tried reviving some of the magic of Salt Lake City, when goalie Andrei Mezin made 47 saves. Mezin started in goal again and made 34 saves. But, this time, Sweden — a possible gold medalist in 2002 if it had beaten Belarus — didn’t cave.
“Everybody is speaking about that (2002), but we don’t think about it,” Belarus forward Konstantin Zakharov said. “It was history.”
The Vancouver crowd, backing the underdog, began chanting, “Bel-a-rus, Bel-a-rus” after Meleshko scored at 14:40 in the third period to turn a close but not uncomfortable game for the Swedes into a dangerously tight one.
This time, Sweden — a possible gold medalist in 2002 if it had beaten Belarus — didn’t cave.
“I don’t know if we really wanted to have it this close, but it’s good to not have blowouts right away,” Forsberg said. “We would’ve liked to have had more goals, but hopefully we can build on this. We played for 60 minutes and we have done it for two games now.”
They needed all 60 minutes, too.
“They were coming after us a little bit more when they got that second goal. It gave them some wind,” defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said.
Ruslan Salei, one of Belarus’ two NHL players, said his team believed it could pull it off.
“You try to tell the guys that you can compete with anybody in the world. Until they feel that, it’s hard to explain it,” Salei said. “Our guys got more comfortable. They started to believe in themselves.”
If nothing else, the Swedes had enough to finish this one out, unlike 2002. Then, Vladimir Kopat’s 70-foot shot that bounced off goalie Tommy Salo’s facemask and into the net created one of the worst moments in Swedish sports history.
Sedin also assisted on Alfredsson’s second goal. Twin brother Henrik Sedin, who also plays for the Vancouver Canucks, had two assists as Sweden joined the United States as the only teams in the 12-team field to win each of its first two games in regulation.
Sweden now heads into Sunday’s Nordic showdown against Finland, which it beat in the 2006 gold medal game.
“It’s always been a great rivalry, not only hockey but in all sports,” Lidstrom said. “It will be a tough game and a fairly even game, too. It’s always a fun game to be a part of. It’s something that goes way back.”
Despite that 2002 debacle against Belarus, Swede coach Bengt Ake Gustafsson didn’t start regular goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson stopped 17 shots but couldn’t prevent Meleshko from finding the net twice. Meleshko has 10 goals in 49 games for the Minsk Dynamo of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
Meleshko’s first goal came at 14:40 of the second on a power play. As Gustavsson sprawled on the ice amid a tangle of players in the crease, Alexander Kulakov appeared to deflect the puck into the net, but the goal was later awarded to Meleshko.
Meleshko scored again at 11:33 of the third, no doubt creating some anxious moments in Sweden — where fans are hoping an aging team that returns 13 players from the 2006 Turin Olympics has one more medal left in it.
The Franzen goal turned out to be pivotal. The Detroit Red Wings forward known as the Mule wasn’t added to the Swedish team until just before the games began after being out most of the season with a torn left anterior cruciate ligament.