(0-3-0-0, 0 pts)
(3-0-0-0, 9 pts)
12:00 PM ET, February 15, 2014
Sweden defeats Latvia, earns automatic spot in quarterfinals
SOCHI, Russia -- Daniel Alfredsson scored a go-ahead goal late in the second period and Sweden went on to beat Latvia 5-3 Saturday, staying undefeated and earning an automatic spot in hockey quarterfinals at the Olympics.
The Swedes (3-0) will get to rest until Wednesday when the top eight teams will begin playing the single-elimination portion of the tournament.
"We're going to play better teams," Sweden's Henrik Lundqvist said after making 20 saves. "It will be more intense."
But first, the Swedes will get to relax with three days off before they compete again. Sweden defenseman Johnny Oduya plans to spend at least part of his off day on Sunday by going to the nearby mountains to watch Olympic skiing. Oduya, though, would rather be on the ice against another team.
"We're playing so well that I would rather play as soon as possible," he said.
The last time the Olympics were in Europe, the Swedes won gold. It would be quite a quite a feat if they can pull it off again. Sweden is without captain Henrik Zetterberg, who pulled out of the tournament because of a herniated disk after playing a game, and Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen, both of whom were forced to skip the Olympics because of injuries.
Lundqvist, who helped Sweden win gold in 2006, acknowledged it will be a tough task to win three more games to win the best-on-best tournament.
"We're not as skilled as we were four years ago, missing three players that would've been on our top two lines," he said. "For this team, it will be about hard work and being disciplined. But we still do have a good team."
The Latvians (0-3) have been good enough to be respectable in their losses, losing 1-0 with 7.9 seconds left against Switzerland, falling 4-2 to the Czechs and by two goals to Sweden after trailing by only one early in the third period.
Latvia will have to win Tuesday in the qualification round to earn a spot in the quarterfinals after being relatively competitive in their three losses.
Latvian coach Ted Nolan said it would be wrong to consider his team a longshot to win a game even though it has only one NHL player, 20-year-old rookie Zemgus Girgensons.
"We feel like we have some really good players," Nolan insisted. "I wouldn't say it would be an upset. I would say we have a chance."
With a balanced group of skaters and one of the world's best goaltenders, Sweden will have a legitimate opportunity to beat any nation next week. Patrik Berglund put the Swedes up 1-0 at the 15:50 mark of the first, when he redirected Erik Karlsson's shot. Lauris Darzins tied it late in the period. Janis Sprukts put Latvia ahead early in the second, giving their small, but vocal pack of fans cheer.
But the lead didn't last long because Karlsson's slap shot pulled Sweden into a 2-all tie 1:23 later in the period. Alfredsson's goal put the short-handed Swedes ahead for good late in the second and Jimmie Ericsson, their only player who doesn't play in the NHL, gave them a two-goal cushion later in the period.
Girgensons' backhander pulled his overmatched team within a goal early in the third, but Alexander Edler sealed the win for Sweden midway through the final period. Latvia's Kristers Gudlevskis stopped 25 shots.
"Our team played hard, and we have to," Nolan said. "Sweden is one of the world powers in hockey."