In a matchup of Buffalo Sabres’ top prospects, it was Sweden’s Alex Nylander and Marcus Davidsson who came out ahead of Casey Mittelstadt and the United States.
The Swedes scored three third period goals in their 4-2 victory over the US at the World Junior tournament semifinals Thursday evening.
It’s Swedens first trip back to the gold-medal game since 2014.
“It’s the biggest thing you can win in Sweden,” said Davidsson, who had a point in the win. “Even if you’re not into hockey, almost everyone watches Sweden in the gold-medal game. It’s huge.”
For Nylander, the win guarantees a medal for the Sabres’ 2016 first round pick, who was a part of the last two Swedish World Junior teams that finished in fourth place.
“I’m really excited to be in the finals and play in my future home,” said Nylander, who picked up an assist Thursday. “I’m just trying to soak it all in.”
Neither side showed much offense in the opening period.
The best chance for a goal in the first came when Nylander shot the puck between the legs of US goalie Joe Woll eight minutes into the game. The puck got most of the way through before Woll moved his left leg over to corral it just centimeters from the goal line.
The Americans’ numerous trips to the penalty box caught up with them as Sweden converted on their third power play of the day. Elias Pettersson blasted a shot behind a screened Woll for the goal with 6:30 left in the second period.
The US had several chances afterward but could not capitalize.
In a play reminiscent of the outdoor game, Woll sent a strong outlet pass to Mittelstadt, who was parked all alone at the Swedish blue line on the power play. Unfortunately, the forward’s backhand was turned aside on the breakaway chance. The play resulted in the US losing their man-advantage when Keiffer Bellows was called for goalie interference in the final minute of the period.
Sweden converted a 2-on-1 rush early in the third to take a two-goal lead. Lias Andersson got the puck to Fredrik Karlstrom who shot it on goal. Woll didn’t handle the rebound well and Andersson pounded the puck in.
The United States was gifted a fifth power play opportunity, but they looked like the team down a man allowing Sweden to score two shorthanded goals. Another 2-on-1 break resulted in Oskar Steen putting a shot right past Woll for the goal. Less than 40 seconds later, Davidsson found Axel Jonsson Fjallby for the quick goal.
“They’re a skilled team and you can’t let them play on the rush. Obviously, we didn’t do that tonight,” Mittelstadt said. “If we gave them time to make plays they made them.”
The Americans weren’t going away easy as they scored a pair after the Swedish fourth goal. Kailer Yamamoto found Bellows on the power play with seven minutes to go. With three minutes to go, the US had the extra attack and Brady Tkachuk tapped one in. But it was too little, too late for the USA.
Sweden last won a goal medal in 2012 in Alberta,Canada.
“I watched every game of that tournament,” said Davidsson as he reflected back on the 2012 tournament. “I felt like part of the team. I was so happy when they won.”
Sweden will play the winner of Canada/Czech Republic at 8 p.m. in the gold-medal game Friday at the KeyBank Center. The United States will play the loser in the preceding Bronze-medal game at 4 p.m.