After initial concerns, Sweden's top line delivered in the semi-finals. Lias Andersson and Alexander Nylander spoke with us after the game. Photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Andersson, Nylander and Pettersson deliver
After a difficult quarter-final victory, Sweden’s top line improved and delivered in the semi-finals against the U.S.
Following Tuesday’s 3-2 quarter-final victory over Slovakia Swedish head coach Tomas Monten admitted his top line wasn’t very good. Elias Pettersson, Alexander Nylander and captain Lias Andersson were held without a point as the Swedes hung on to advance to the semi-finals.
“I think that’s the best with those players, they know when they didn’t play their best game and they know they can be better,” Monten said following the quarter-final win. “They’re going to be next game for sure.”
Better they were.
Led by Andersson’s goal and assist Sweden jumped out to a 4-0 led on Thursday and hung on to defeat the U.S. 4-2 earning a berth in today’s gold medal game. Pettersson added a goal and Nylander had an assist in the win.
“Of course, to (play) in the World Junior Championship final feels amazing, but we’re not done yet,” said Andersson. “We have one more win to get. We’re going to go for the gold tomorrow.”
Nylander, who is participating in his third Under-20 tournament, was especially critical of his game in the win over the Slovaks.
“We have to step it up, my line and myself,” Nylander said on Tuesday. “I had a really bad game, which is unacceptable. I have to step it up a lot more next game. I’ve got to play a lot better. I wasn’t moving my feet and create more plays and use the stuff I’m good at, trying to get shots at the net and working hard. I’ve got to work harder.”
The Buffalo Sabres prospect was tied for the tournament lead with 12 points last year. However, he had just one goal and five assists entering the semi-finals.
On Thursday Nylander set up Pettersson’s second-period power-play goal to give the Swedes a 1-0 lead.
“I played a lot harder today, just trying to keep it simple and move my feet,” said Nylander assessing his game. “I think everyone contributed really well on the team and it was a huge win for us.”
Andersson scored his team-leading sixth goal to give Sweden a 2-0 lead in the third period.
The New York Rangers prospect has been hampered by a shoulder injury for much of the tournament.
“It feels pretty good. I can sleep on it,” Andersson said of the shoulder. “I can play pretty good so it feels good.”
The 19-year-old was part of last year’s Swedish squad that finished fourth in the tournament and was well aware of the country’s recent failures in the knockout stage of the World Juniors.
Prior to Thursday’s win, Sweden had won just four of the past 10 semi-finals and hadn’t medalled in the previous three tournaments.
Following the win over the Americans there was a noticeable sense of relief amongst the Swedes as they get set to play for gold on Friday.
“It feels good, of course,” said Andersson. “We feel we’ve been battling for some years here in the semi-finals and played good in the group stage now for many years, so it’s good. We have a special group here: the 98s and the 99s so it feels amazing.”