It took two minutes for Tre Kronor to draw first blood. And at this 21:10 start, the winless Germans were doomed before midnight as Sweden stayed perfect in Group C.
Sweden has not allowed a goal yet in this tournament.
“It was a great effort by us,” said German defenceman Bjorn Krupp. “Sweden is an unreal team, but we tried to do our best. Of course, you want to win the game, but 1-0 is good. We played well.”
Viktor Stalberg scored for the Swedes in this hard and heavy game in front of 3,077 fans at the Kwandong Hockey Centre. The Germans showed their mettle with a gritty two-way effort and hit several posts. They deserved a better fate, but their scoring remains as weak as American beer. They lost 5-2 to Finland in their first game.
“It was a hard-puck game,” said Stalberg. “They were battling. They play structured hockey and are hard to play against. They have a lot of big, strong guys. We knew they were going to make it hard on us. They stuck to their game plan very well. We had a good effort, but there are things we need to do better if we’re going to be successful.”
In goal, both Sweden’s Jhonas Enroth and Germany’s Timo Pielmeier saw their first Olympic action ever. Germany outshot Sweden 28-26 as Enroth, who played 156 NHL games and now backstops Dynamo Minsk, shone to earn his shutout.
After being a healthy scratch in the opening 4-0 win over Norway, Sweden’s budding superstar Rasmus Dahlin made his Olympic debut, taking the place of 31-year-old Patrik Hersley. The 17-year-old Frolunda Gothenburg product fit into the blue-and-yellow preliminary-round machine, despite seeing very limited minutes for coach Rikard Gronborg as a power play specialist.
Dahlin would become the first player under 18 to win Olympic gold if the Swedes capture their third title after Lillehammer 1994 and Turin 2006. Sweden is coming off silver in Sochi 2014, where it lost the final 3-0 to Canada.
Sweden got a great start. Stalberg took a pass from Patrick Zackrisson, split the German defence, and zapped a stick-side shot past Pielmeier at 2:00. The EV Zug winger showed the kind of wheels that helped him win the 2013 Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Stalberg described the play: “It was a quick turnaround and a good play by Bergstrom and a nice pass by Zackrisson in the middle. I was able to find some speed and beat the defenders there. With that much speed, I tried to move the puck from one side to the other and find a hole.”
Past the midway mark of the first, Germany’s Dominik Kahun cut in from the right side and rang one off Enroth’s right post. That was the underdogs’ best chance of the period.
The flow bogged down in the second period as Sweden took five minor penalties to Germany’s three. Enroth stood his ground as the Germans pounded away. At the other end, Pielmeier came across to foil Fredrik Pettersson’s one-timer. German defenceman Gerrit Fauser blocked a shot and headed to the dressing room, grimacing in pain.
“Special teams are going to be a huge part of our success,” said Krupp. “It’s so important in international play. That’s where most games are going to be decided.”
After Germany took back-to-back minors, it was Sweden’s turn to play with fire. The Germans got a 5-on-3 for 1:10 with Par Lindholm and Stalberg in the box. They fired away and Kahun again rang one off the iron. German assistant captain Christian Ehrhoff was stunned when Johan Fransson’s slap shot rocked his helmet, but the veteran blueliner kept going.
“Our penalty kill has been great the first two games but the power play needs to come up a bit,” Stalberg said. “We had some decent looks tonight, but we have to start scoring on that. It’s going to be crucial.”
The Germans showed no quit in the third period. Felix Schutz hit Enroth’s right post about six minutes into the frame. With 1:34 left, David Wolf busted to the net on the backhander and ran into the Swedish goalie, but couldn’t get the puck in.
German coach Marco Sturm called his timeout and pulled Pielmeier for the extra skater. Enroth made two fantastic in-tight saves on Schutz to preserve his shutout.
This was the sixth straight Swedish win over the reunified Germany, dating back to the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France. Germany, back in the Olympics for the first time since 2010, has not won a game since beating Latvia 4-1 on 12 February 2002 at the Salt Lake City Olympics.
Iron Maiden has confirmed it will play Sweden Rock 2018, and Sweden has confirmed it will play unbeaten Finland in a 21:10 Nordic showdown on Sunday for first place in the group. Play like a trooper or run to the hills will be the order of the day.
On Sunday, Germany faces winless Norway in a 12:10 battle for third and fourth place in Group C.