By Mike Halford
A four-goal hole proved too much for the Czech Republic to dig out of on Wednesday, as it dropped a 4-2 decision to Sweden in the tournament opener for both teams.
The Swedes scored four times in the game’s first 21 minutes and withstood a spirited Czech reply to earn all three points. Tre Kronor’s dynamic defensive pair of Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson led the way, combining for four points — two goals from Karlsson, two assists from Ekman-Larsson — while team captain Henrik Zetterberg scored what proved to be the game-winner just 51 seconds into the second period.
Marek Zidlicky and Jaromir Jagr replied for the Czechs, while Patrik Berglund scored the other Swedish goal.
The Czechs, widely criticized for roster selections heading into Sochi, made a series of head-scratching decisions prior to today’s game that left many wondering how much it affected the outcome. Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec didn’t start — heck, he didn’t even dress — as the Czechs opted to go with KHL netminder Jakub Kovar, who was hooked after allowing three goals on 10 shots.
Kovar was replaced by Alexander Salak, who played well in stopping 14 of 15 shots faced.
In other eyebrow-raising choices, the Czechs scratched Phoenix center Martin Hanzal from the lineup and distributed ice time in bizarre fashion. Forward Ales Hemsky and Ladislav Smid didn’t play a single shift in the opening frame — Smid ended up with zero ice time, Hemsky finished with just 6:58. Ottawa forward Milan Michalek was also sparsely used, getting just 6:46 TOI.
That said, the Czechs did turn it on after falling behind 4-0. The team threw several shots towards Lundqvist in the final frame, but the Swedish netminder stood tall, stopping all 17 shots faced in the third. Lundqvist finished with 27 saves on 29 shots overall.
Notes: Sweden was the only team to capitalize on the man advantage, as Karlsson’s second goal of the game came on the power play… Zidlicky played the most of any player, earning 26:56 TOI… Alex Steen led all Swedish skaters with 19:27.