Belarus-Sweden Preview

BY foxsports • February 18, 2010

Like other teams at the Olympics, Sweden hasn't had much time to practice together. Then again, Tre Kronor are the defending champions, and experience seems to trump nervousness.

Coming off a shutout win - and ahead of a rematch with a Nordic rival - the Swedes play Friday against short-handed Belarus, which may be feeling somewhat demoralized after one game.

Sweden opened its schedule at Vancouver with a 2-0 win over Germany on Wednesday. Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers turned aside 21 shots and was backed by goals from former Canucks defenseman Mattias Ohlund, now with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and forward Loui Eriksson of the Dallas Stars.

Germany had a 7-6 advantage in shots on goal after a scoreless first period, but Lundqvist said that didn't matter.

"At the beginning of the game, we were nervous and anxious," Lundqvist said. "But we didn't panic."

Panicking may not be part of Sweden's makeup. The team features six Stanley Cup champions and returned 13 players from the 2006 squad that defeated Finland for the gold medal in Turin, Italy.

Sweden is trying to become the first team to win two Olympic golds since the NHL first allowed its players to compete in the Winter Games 12 years ago. Though the Swedes prevailed in the opener, there were some issues.

Ottawa Senators star Daniel Alfredsson failed to record a point - he was tied for second in scoring in 2006 with 10 - and Henrik Sedin of the Canucks, second in the NHL this season with 80 points, also was held off the scoresheet. Sweden also was short-handed six times compared to four for Germany.

However, a big game against an undermanned Belarusian team could put aside those concerns before Sweden faces the Finns on Sunday.

"We have to get to know each other. It's not enough to look at the X's and O's on a board, you then have to get on the ice and play," Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings told the International Ice Hockey Federation's official Web site.

This game could easily be considered a glorified scrimmage after Belarus opened its Olympic schedule with a 5-1 loss to Finland on Wednesday. That outcome could have been far more lopsided had it not been for Vitali Koval's 40 saves.

"If we don't have a goalie, we don't have no chance," said captain Ruslan Salei, who also plays for the Colorado Avalanche. "It's tough to compete with their skill level and pretty much everything else. Obviously, we don't have that horsepower that they have."

Montreal's Sergei Kostitsyn scored for Belarus, which is without fellow NHL players Andrei Kostitsyn - Sergei's older brother and Canadiens teammate - and Mikhail Grabovski of the Toronto Maple Leafs due to injuries.

"Of course I would rather not score if the team win," Sergei Kostitsyn said. "We're missing Andrei and Mikhail Grabovski, and obviously they'd help us. We'll just take it game by game, forget this one now, and look forward to our next one."

Though Koval was the star in the opener, Belarus may start Andrei Mezin, who currently plays in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League. Mezin, who is participating in his third Olympics, helped the Belarusians to a seventh-place finish in 1998 at Nagano and fourth place four years later in Salt Lake City.

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