Sweden-Finland Preview

The stakes were higher the last time Sweden and Finland met at

the Olympics, and Sunday’s clash won’t provide the Finns a chance

to entirely erase bitter memories of a loss to their arch-rivals in

the Turin gold-medal game.

However, a victory over Sweden in the final preliminary-round

matchup in Vancouver would certainly help, as the winner will

capture Group C and earn a bye to the quarterfinals of the medal

round.

“It’s going to be a big one,” said Finnish forward Teemu

Selanne, who tied for the overall lead with six goals and 11 points

at the 2006 Olympics, where Finland won its first seven games to

earn a spot in the final.

The Swedes had to bounce back from two preliminary-round defeats

to reach that point, but defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom’s goal 10

seconds into the third period gave Sweden a 3-2 victory and its

second Olympic hockey gold – also keeping its Nordic neighbors

without one.

“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.”

Both teams have won their first two games in Vancouver in

regulation, but the Finns have been more impressive statistically,

outscoring Germany and Belarus by a combined 10-1.

Niklas Hagman has led the way with two goals and two assists,

but Selanne claimed the spotlight Friday night, breaking the

all-time record for career Olympic points in a 5-0 win over the

Germans when he assisted on Kimmo Timonen’s second goal.

The 39-year-old Selanne, who won bronze at the 1998 Nagano Games

before the silver in Turin, has 37 points in Olympic play.

“It’s very difficult to think he’s almost 40 years old,” Finland

coach Jukka Jalonen said. “He plays like he’s 30 years old. Great

athlete. Great leader. Great person.”

Finnish goalie Antero Niittymaki was MVP of the 2006 Olympics

and Niklas Backstrom made 24 saves Friday to shut out Germany, but

Calgary Flames netminder Miikka Kiprusoff will start Sunday.

Kiprusoff, who skipped both the Turin Games and the 2002 Salt

Lake City Olympics, stopped 11 shots in a 5-1 win over Belarus on

Wednesday – his Olympic debut.

Henrik Lundqvist, who made 25 saves in the 2006 gold-medal game,

will likely be back in net for Sweden after backup Jonas Gustavsson

played during Friday’s 4-2 win over the Belarusians, a result too

close for comfort for the highly-favored Swedes.

“I don’t know if we really wanted to have it this close, but

it’s good to not have blowouts right away,” forward Peter 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.”

Sweden has been held to six goals through two games against

seemingly inferior competition, with Forsberg, Lidstrom and star

forward Henrik Zetterberg all still seeking their first point.

That could come back to haunt the Swedes if they lose to Finland

and goal differential becomes a factor for seeding in the medal

round. While the winner of this game is guaranteed a spot in the

quarterfinals, the loser could also earn the No. 4 overall seed and

a bye depending on other results.

The Finns and Swedes will meet after Russia faces the Czech

Republic and Canada squares off against the United States earlier

in the day. The host Canadians and star-studded Russians have

claimed much of the attention at these Games.

“Everybody is talking about the other teams – Canada, Russia –

and it’s great for us,” Selanne said. “Obviously, we know we can’t

compete against those teams in a best-of-seven series.

“But in one game, you never know and that’s why these

tournaments are so exciting.”