#1 Sweden vs #4 Finland
It is fitting these two Scandinavian countries battle for the right to play for the gold medal. In the last few years, they have become powers in world hockey, their players playing significant roles in the world’s top professional hockey leagues at all positions on the ice. This will be the better of the two battles in semi-final play for several reasons; consistency over time and spectacular play in this Olympic tournament.
For Sweden, the path to this stage began by winning all three games of preliminary play by defeating the Czech Republic 4-2, Switzerland 1-0 and Latvia 5-3 allowing them to finish atop Group C. After earning a first-round bye, Sweden whitewashed upstart Slovenia 5-0 to advance to the semi-final.
In these four games, Sweden has scored 15 goals, six while with the man-advantage, while only allowing 5, two of which while shorthanded. They have scored on 15 of their 124 shots for a scoring percentage of 12.10%, third in the tournament. In special teams, they have the tournament’s top-ranked power play scoring on 6 of 17 opportunities for a 35.29% conversion rate while ranking fifth in shorthanded conditions allowing only 2 goals on 15 situations for an 86.67% survival rate.
Offensively, Sweden is getting contributions on all part of the ice with ten different players scoring goals. Of their 15 scores, 4 have come from defensemen. Erik Karlsson leads all goal scorers with 3 from the backline while Carl Hagelin, Patrik Berglund and Daniel Alredsson each have 2 from the forward position. Only one player, defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, has a negative rating at -2.
Defensively, the Swedes play a tight, disciplined brand of hockey and when opponents find ways behind the defense, they have a world-class goaltender to guard the net. Henrik Lundqvist has been spectacular making key saves which seem to have strengthened the Swedes when their offense has stalled at times. Lundqvist has turned aside 92 of 97 shots for a save percentage of 0.948 and a 1.25 goals against average. He has put Sweden in a position to take gold.
For Finland, they might be the next best team in the tournament just falling short of winning their group. Finland gained their spot in the semi-finals after defeating Austria 8-4 and Norway 6-1 and then losing in overtime to Canada 2-1 in preliminary play. This placed Finland second in Group B just behind Canada. By achieving the fourth best record, Finland gained a first round B before facing a disappointing Russian squad, defeating the host nation 3-1.
In these four games, Finland has scored 18 goals, three while with the man-advantage, while only allowing 8, three of which while shorthanded. They have scored on 18 of their 128 shots for a scoring percentage of 14.06%, second in the tournament. In special teams, they have the tournament’s fifth-ranked power play scoring on 3 of 12 opportunities for a 25% conversion rate while ranking last in shorthanded conditions allowing only 3 goals on 8 situations for a 62.50% survival rate.
Offensively, Finland has a highly-balanced scoring attack with twelve different players scoring goals. Of their 18 scores, just 2 have come from defensemen. Mikael Granlund leads all goal scorers with 3 while Teemu Selanne, Jarkko Immonen and Lauri Korpikoski each have 2. Olli Maata has contributed two goals from the backline. Each player has a positive player rating with Tuomo Ruutu and Petri Kontiola leading the team with a +4.
Defensively, Finland is not a flashy squad, but finds ways to get the job done in their own end. While he had a relatively disappointing preliminary round by his own standards, Tuukka Rask has rebounded nicely with solid play in the first elimination game. Ranked near the bottom of the goaltending leaders after group play, Rask turned in a spectacular performance against Russia with a 3-1 victory in which he allowed just one goal and turned aside 37 of 38 shots. Prior to the game against Russia, Rask had allowed 6 goals on 47 shots for a 0.872 save percentage and 2.94 goals against average. Rask is back and the tightening of his play against Russia gives Finland promise as they prepare to play Sweden.
While some might point to Sweden as this match being theirs to lose, look for Finland to take it and advance to the gold medal game. Finland will be successful on the strength of scoring the first goal and allowing Tuukka Rask to frustrate the Swedish attack in a game which should involve at least 70 shots on goal. It should be an epic match and the better of the two semi-final games.
Follow me on Twitter at @DMMORRELL