SOCHI, Russia (AP) – Erik Karlsson’s impressive Olympic debut demonstrated why Sweden has more than enough talent to win it all.
Karlsson scored two goals in his first Olympic game, captain Henrik Zetterberg added a goal and Sweden beat the Czech Republic 4-2 Wednesday night in preliminary-round play in men’s hockey.
Patrik Berglund also scored and Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves as the Swedes opened the Sochi tournament with a display of their formidable offensive depth. Although Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen are out with injuries, Sweden is confident it has young talent just waiting to fill the net.
“We’ve got a lot of good players,” Eriksson said. “I just want to be part of it.”
Sweden scored four times on its first 11 shots, chasing Czech goalie Jakub Kovar at the Bolshoy Ice Dome and taking a 4-0 lead early in the second period.
Karlsson, the Ottawa Senators’ standout young defenseman, scored the opening goal 10 minutes in and added a power-play goal early in the second period, putting both shots past screens set by his veteran teammates.
When asked if he ever imagined scoring two goals in his Olympic debut, Karlsson shook his head violently enough to send beads of sweat flying across the room.
“It was a pleasant surprise,” Karlsson said. “I think we played well, and I played with great players. You know, sometimes you just have to be in the right spot and hit the net, and have someone in front.”
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Karlsson’s similarly talented young partner on defense, had two assists as Sweden thrived without Henrik Sedin or Franzen, who couldn’t travel to Sochi. Those absences leave the Swedes behind Canada and Russia as gold-medal favorites, but they still handled their toughest matchup of the preliminary round with aplomb.
Lundqvist, the star of Sweden’s gold-medal run in Turin eight years ago, comfortably disposed of several nervous moments in the scoreless third period with 15 saves as the Czechs made a late push fueled by a partisan crowd.
“We made it tough for us, but I’m happy with the way we regrouped,” Lundqvist said. “You want to start building something, and this is a good start for us.”
Jaromir Jagr scored a goal in his fifth Olympics, and Marek Zidlicky also scored for the Czechs, who couldn’t overcome shaky goaltending.
Sweden was a nightmare for Kovar, a former fourth-round pick by Philadelphia who now plays in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. He got the start over Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who was scratched by Czech coach Alois Hadamczik.
“They had pretty good traffic in front of the net and got three of the same goals,” said Kovar, who acknowledged the pressure of an Olympic start affected him “maybe a little bit. I would like the first two goals to be different.”
Just three minutes after Karlsson beat Kovar with a long shot during a delayed penalty in the first period, Berglund put a stoppable wrist shot under Kovar’s right arm. Sweden chased Kovar in the opening seconds of the second when Zetterberg’s long shot went through Alexander Steen’s screen.
Backup Alexander Salak quickly gave up a power-play goal to Eriksson from the blue line, but the crowd awoke when Zidlicky scored on a booming slap shot.
Jagr then scored when linemate Tomas Plekanec pushed Niklas Kronwall into Lundqvist, who protested loudly. Jagr, the 41-year-old New Jersey Devils star, has scored in each of his five Olympic appearances and has nine goals overall.
Sweden has beaten the Czechs in all three of their Olympic meetings.
The Czechs scratched Radko Gudas, the Tampa Bay defenseman who delivered the hit that apparently left Franzen with a concussion on Dec. 15. Six of Franzen’s teammates from the Detroit Red Wings are on Sweden’s Olympic roster.
Czech forward Petr Nedved returned to the Olympics 20 years after his first appearance in Lillehammer, where he played for Canada after defecting.
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