From IIHF News@1:266/404 to All on Fri May 4 21:00:51 2018
Sweden and Denmark are close neighbours - and hockey players and coaches have regularly crossed the Oresund in both directions. So today it was little surprise that the Tre Kronor's opening game in Copenhagen felt like a home fixture for the team in yellow. It's barely half an hour on the train from the Orestad station outside the Royal Arena to the Swedish city of Malmo, and there
was every evidence that those trains had been busy all afternoon as the tribunes filled up with visitors from across the Baltic.
Most of the 10,884 crowd went home happy as the Swedes began their defence of last year's title with a convincing 5-0 victory over a Belarus team that battled hard but struggled to find clear cut scoring chances. Two quick goals midway through the first period saw Lias Andersson and Gustav Nyquist put daylight between the teams before Sweden's first line extended the advantage with two more in the middle session and Mika Zibanejad wrapped it up late in the game.
Both teams handed World Championship debuts to their goalies. For Belarus, 21-year-old Blue Jackets prospect Ivan Kulbakov got the start; for Sweden it was Magnus Hellberg, unused at the Olympics, who got the nod. Hellberg, 27, represented his country for the first time at any level earlier this season, backstopping Sweden to a 2-0 victory over Canada in the Karjala Cup and marked a second significant debut by blanking another opponent for a 25-save shut-out.
It's something you've been dreaming about since you were a kid, Hellberg said. "I had a couple of games earlier in the season, but the World Championship is the World Championship.
Winning is the most important, but getting a shutout shows that as a team, we had a really good defensive plan. I saw a lot of shots. They took a lot of rebounds away from me. I'm really proud of the team and how they worked.
Despite the sea of yellow all around, Belarus made a bright start and Hellberg did well to stop an early breakaway effort from Geoff Platt. But that was as good as it got for Dave Lewis and his team as Sweden took complete control midway through the opening period.
The opening goal went to Andersson, but it was Adrian Kempe's delicious little backhand pass that wrongfooted the entire Belarusian defence. After that, Andersson drove to the net and beat Ivan Kulbakov up close. Within half a minute, Sweden had doubled its advantage. John Klingberg's dot-to-dot pass found Nyquist and his one-timer flew into the top corner.
You know what? We played all right, Nyquist said. "We took a couple too many penalties out there, but the PK did a good job, and our goalie was great in net. So nice to get five [goals], for sure, and a good start to the tournament.
It was a lot of fun to see all the Swedish fans here. That gave us a lot of energy."
Into the second frame and it was time for Sweden's first line to strut its stuff. Mika Zibanejad flew down the left wing, Mattias Janmark supplied the far-post finish to wrap up a fine play. Then came Rikard Rakell, emerging from the penalty box to collect a stray Yevgeni Lisovets pass and unleash a rasping shot past Kulbakov. That was the end of the Quad City Mallards goalie's evening; replaced by Mikhail Karnaukhov to bring his debut to a premature finish.
The fourth Swedish goal was especially hard on Belarus, which had delivered a testing power play as it looked for a way to beat Hellberg and get back into the game. Instead, the Kunlun Red Star goalie kept his shut-out hopes alive and
Belarus found itself staring at a heavy loss in a game that was rather more evenly contested than the tournament opener between Russia and France earlier in the day.
Defenceman Dmitri Korobov admitted the game quickly got away from his team. "It
felt like we only played well for the first 10 minutes," he said. "After that we started making positional errors and allowed the game to be played too close
to our net."
He also spoke up for Kublakov after an unhappy end to the goalie's debut. "Ivan's still only a young guy, but he's a good goalie. You can't blame him for
any of those goals, they were our fault as a team."
Karnaukhov, meanwhile, was out to keep things the respectable. The Dynamo Minsk
man shut the door on Janmark early in the third frame to snuff out a one-on-one
breakaway before stopping the same man from point-blank range. Janmark at least
had the satisfaction of an assist when the goalie was beaten at last: his deflected pass found Zibanejad at the far post and he scored from a tight angle
to complete a 5-0 win.