Swedes, without stars, reach 5th straight semi

Updated: May 13, 2005, 8:02 PM ET
Associated Press

VIENNA, Austria -- Canada and Sweden are each one victory away from a third straight final at the world hockey championship.

That's hardly a surprise for the star-studded Canadians, who have won the last two titles and returned this year with some of the NHL's best players. Sweden, however, advanced to its fifth straight semifinals practically short-handed.

Peter Forsberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Markus Naslund and Mats Sundin all decided to pass on this year's tournament, but that hasn't hindered a group of young Swedish stars from making another run.

A spot in the final is far from guaranteed for either team. Canada faces the undefeated Russians on Saturday, while the Swedes meet Jaromir Jagr and the Czech Republic.

The Czechs knocked out the United States on Thursday with a 3-2 shootout victory. The Americans blew a two-goal lead in the third period and couldn't solve goalie Tomas Vokoun during the overtime or shootout.

Canada, trying to win its third consecutive title for the first time since 1950-52 and a record 24th overall since the inaugural championship in 1920, also squeezed into the semis by beating Slovakia 5-4 and showed a lot of resiliency in the process by battling back from one-goal deficits three times.

Canada features the tournament's top scoring duo -- Rick Nash has nine goals, Joe Thornton, six -- and starts Martin Brodeur in goal. The New Jersey Devils All-Star will be tested by the Russian trio of Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Ovechkin.

"The Russians are loaded," Canadian coach Marc Habscheid said. "We watched them earlier in the tournament and they're really quick."

Sweden, playing without its four biggest names, was not expected to get this far. But the roster is stocked with the next generation of Swedish stars, including the Vancouver Canucks' Daniel and Henrik Sedin, the Detroit Red Wings' Henrik Zetterberg, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who could be heading to the New York Rangers if the NHL starts again this fall.

The Swedes, who beat Switzerland 2-1 in the quarterfinals, will be looking to avenge a 6-1 loss to the Czechs in the World Cup of Hockey quarterfinals.

"The Czechs look as strong and motivated as they were in the World Cup," Sweden assistant Tommy Boustedt said. "What I've seen is that the Czechs have played the best hockey in the tournament so far."

The Czech Republic hasn't won the world championship since 2001, the last of its three straight titles. Sweden last won in 1998, its seventh championship.

Russia, the only undefeated team in the tournament, needed a shootout to edge Finland 4-3 in the quarterfinals, and hasn't fared well against the Canadians in their last two meetings -- a 5-1 loss in the preliminaries in 2001 and a 5-2 defeat in the second round in 2003.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press