Preview: Sweden won't be overlooking underdog Slovenia
SLOVENIA vs. SWEDEN
When: Wednesday, 3 a.m. ET (NBCSN, TSN)
Where: Bolshoy Ice Dome
What's at stake: Slovenia will be looking to add to its improbable run at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, its first appearance in an Olympic hockey tournament. Sweden, meanwhile, will be looking to do what's expected of it and that is advance to the semifinals on the way to a third appearance on the medal podium in the six Olympics that have included NHL players.
Slovenia earned its first-ever Olympic win Saturday with a 3-1 victory against Slovakia, and then bounced back from a 5-1 loss to the United States on Sunday with a 4-0 victory against Austria in a qualification playoff game Tuesday. The latest win allowed Slovenia to advance to the quarterfinals of a major world hockey tournament for the first time.
Slovenia: Anze Kopitar, the lone current NHL player on the roster, got the team going against Austria. The Los Angeles Kings forward scored at 5:29 of the first period for a 1-0 lead and Slovenia never looked back.
"Three days ago they said it was the biggest win, against Slovakia, in Slovenian history," Slovenia's Sabahudin Kovacevic told the IIHF website. "But now, I think this one is the biggest."
Goalie Robert Kristan stopped all 30 shots he faced, including a post-to-post glove save on Austria forward Michael Grabner in the first period, to earn the shutout. He has allowed one goal in his past two starts.
Sweden: Despite losing three of their top forwards to injuries, including captain Henrik Zetterberg, the Swedes finished preliminary-round play unbeaten to earn the top seed heading into the quarterfinals.
Even after finishing with three regulation wins in the preliminary round, Sweden knows it has to be better if it's going to atone for its disappointing fifth-place finish at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The players were not happy after a 5-3 win against Latvia on Saturday.
"The most important thing is we won our three games here," goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. "We took care of business. But I think facing a really good team in the quarterfinal we'll have to improve a lot."
The Swedes also can look to past upsets in the quarterfinal round, including a 2002 loss to Belarus, to know they can't overlook underdog Slovenia.
"I don't think I need to tell them anything about that after the group games we've had," said forward Daniel Alfredsson, who was on that 2002 team. "We are going to be the favorites, no doubt about that, so it's just about balancing our energy the right way.
"We can't focus on what we have to lose, but on what we can win."
What’s next: The winner will play in the semifinals Friday; the loser will go home. The semifinal opponent is yet to be determined, but will come from the winner of the quarterfinal game between Finland and Russia.