By Frank Pingue
TORONTO (Reuters) – Henrik Lundqvist returned to Sweden’s lineup in spectacular fashion on Tuesday, stoning rivals Finland in his first game back from the flu as the Tre Kronor won 2-0 to take control of Group B at the World Cup of Hockey.
Lundqvist stopped all 36 shots he faced from a desperate Finland team as he emphatically ended any concerns about a possible injury that surfaced when he was a surprise scratch from Sweden’s tournament opener on Sunday.
“Through the first period, I wasn’t as aware as I wanted to be,” said Lundqvist.
“This was my third game in four months, so you just try to move your game in the right direction. I felt like I was reading the game better in the second and third period. You try to build your game but, at the same time, you have to help your team.”
The victory likely assures Sweden a spot in the semi-finals of the eight-team tournament and leaves Finland, who have not beaten their rivals in best-on-best competition since the 1998 Nagano Olympics, in a tough spot to reach the elimination stage.
Sweden got the only goal they would need midway through the second period when Henrik Sedin slipped a deft pass between his skate and an opponent’s stick to Anton Stralman, who stuffed it into the right side of the net from the top of the crease.
Finland pulled Tuukka Rask in the final minute in favour of an extra attacker and had several chances but Sweden’s Loui Eriksson sealed the win when he sent a puck from behind the centre line into an empty net with three seconds to play.
“We played well again. When you have goalies like we have it makes it easy for us,” said Sedin. “Lundqvist played great, as (backup goalie Jacob) Markstrom did last game, so we are happy.”
Rask, who got the start after Pekka Rinne struggled in his team’s opening game of the tournament, was solid in stopping 27 of the 28 shots he faced.
With the win, Sweden (2-0) lead Group B heading into their final game of the preliminary round against Team North America (1-1) on Wednesday.
Finland (0-2) face long odds to reach the elimination round as they would need to beat Russia (1-1) on Thursday, have Sweden win and have the tie-breaking procedure go in their favor.
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)