Another capacity crowd in Dmitrov saw Sweden produce a defensive master-class to snatch a 2-0 victory and leap into second place in Group A in the last game.
Courageous Swedish defence, and two well-taken goals, saw a final twist in the Group A tale as Russia went down to a 0-2 loss against the Tre Kronor.
Anna Amholt halted the Red Machine on the final lap of preliminary round action, making 26 saves to blank the home nation. With first-period goals from Lina Ljungblom and Agnes Wilhelmsson making the difference at the other end, Sweden took the win … and with it moved from last place to second, booking a semi-final meet-up and earning a rest during tomorrow’s QF games.
Another capacity crowd began filling the Ice Palace in Dmitrov more than an hour before the start of Russia’s hotly-anticipated clash with Sweden, and most of them were expecting a home victory and progress direct to the semi-final for the first time.
The Swedes, though, had not come to play the fall guy. With 76 seconds gone, the first shot on Diana Farkhutdinova’s net found its target as Lina Ljungblom put Josefin Bouveng’s pass beyond the Russian goalie. Momentarily stunned, the crowd quickly recovered and redoubled the noise in the hope of inspiring a rapid reply from Russia.
But, as Amholt explained, the atmosphere was never going to be a distraction for the team in yellow. “Once the game starts,” she said, “I’m just in that zone. It’s great to see so many people, it’s fun to be part of it, but it doesn’t really affect anything on the ice.”
What did have an impact on the ice was Sweden’s rock-solid defence, a feature of the team’s wor throughout the tournament. Tonight, with a lead to hold onto, plenty of hard work on the blue line provided fantastic protection for Amholt in the Swedish net. Even on Russia’s first power play of the evening, the Red Machine spluttered: no shots on goal in two minutes as Ljungblom sat out a minor.
That set the pattern of the first period, with the teams sharing just nine shots on goal between them. But the Swedes doubled their advantage when they scored from their fourth effort of the frame. Fanny Brolin and Jenny Antonsson harried the Russian D in its own zone before Agnes Wilhelmsson stole in front of Daria Beloglazova to seize the puck and launch a wrist shot into the top corner over Farkhutdinova’s glove.
“We tried to focus on our game plan,” said Swedish head coach Ylva Martinsen. “We told the players to expect a big crowd, and a lot of people cheering for Russia. It’s a situation our players are not used to, but they went out and played their game.”
‘Still 40 minutes to go,’ was the word around the arena in the intermission, but the second period saw Sweden’s defensive lock-down continue. Another Russian power play failed to get a shot on Amholt’s net as a tight-knit unit of yellow-clad skaters squeezed the home forwards to the margins, building an imposing wall in front of that goal. It wasn’t until eight minutes into the frame that Daria Beloglazova finally forced a save from Amholt.
The shot count never soared, but the action was absorbing – and increasingly end-to-end. Sweden got a 5-on-3 advantage but could not capitalise, and once the second Russian penalty was seen off, the home team enjoyed a two-player advantage of its own. Again, Sweden got bodies in front of the net to cancel out Russia’s offence and, as Wilhelmsson stepped out of the box to make it an equal-strength game she picked up a loose puck and only a big save from Farkhutdinova denied the Swedes a third goal late in the session.
Russia looked to raise the intensity on offence in the final period, seeing its dream of progressing direct to the last four starting to slip away. But Sweden’s defence remained as resolute as ever, and Amholt once again showed the fantastic form she produced in a valiant rearguard action against the USA. Tempers flared: Oxana Bratisheva and Jenny Antonsson were sent to the bin for roughing as another Russian attack ran into a yellow wall. Meanwhile, the Swedes were still willing to harry down the ice after the puck, and twice tested Farkhutdinova after Brolin and Ljungblom stole possession in dangerous areas.
Yevgeni Bobariko, Russia’s head coach, was left to reflect on a good game but a disappointing result before preparing to face Finland in tomorrow’s quarter-final.
“It was a really good game,” he said. “Sweden played incredibly in defence, and we could not get the goals we needed. We tried to change a few things, but it didn’t work out. We can’t forget that this is a very young team, we have players who were only born in 2003.”
Among his players, Ilona Markova tried to articulate her feelings after the loss. “It’s hard, but I want to tell myself, deep down, that although we lost this game, it’s not the end,” she said. “The tournament goes on, and we’re still in it.”