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Sweden comes off the bench to celebrate their win over Finland in a men's hockey semifinal at Bolshoy Ice Dome during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. Sweden defeated Finland 2-1 to advance to the gold medal game. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

Sweden defeats Finland to reach hockey gold medal game

ADLER, Russia -- Sweden is headed to its second gold medal final in three Olympic Games for the simple reason that its special teams stepped up and Finland's didn't.

The Swedes won, 2-1, an otherwise evenly played Olympic semifinal at the Bolshoy Ice Dome on Friday by withstanding a series of Finn power plays, including a five-on-three matchup in the first period, before defenseman Erik Karlsson delivered the winning goal with a power-play blast.

"Our special teams came up huge," Sweden goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said.

Sweden advanced to Sunday's final against Canada and a showdown of the past two Olympic champions.

"We've always aimed at the gold," Sweden coach Par Marts said.

Finland tries to regroup for Saturday's bronze medal match against the United States.

The Finns have won more medals than any other nation since the NHL players became eligible, but the gold medal has eluded them, with the Swedes usually playing a role in Scandinavian neighbor's continued frustration.

"Little things," Finland coach Erkka Westerlund said when asked about his country's inability to win the gold.

Little things with major consequences.

Through a period and a half, it looked like Finland, coming off an upset of host Russia two nights earlier, might be on its way back to an Olympic final.

Olli Jokinen scored 6:17 into the second period on a rare mistake by Lundqvist. Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen sent a long pass up the ice from a faceoff circle in the Finland end. Jokinen, streaking up the left wing, caught up with the puck just before the red line and fired a shot goal-ward at a tough angle. The puck bounced off Lundqvist's left pad and back through his legs.

"I gave up a tough one there," Lundqvist said. "I definitely thought it was an icing so I kind of relaxed and I just made a bad move. I'm happy that goal didn't matter and we bounced back with two big ones."

Loui Eriksson got the equalizer five minutes later and then Karlsson the winner from the blue line with 3:34 left in the second period.

There will be talk in Finland about whether having starting goaltender Tuukka Rask would have made a difference. Rask, perhaps the hottest goaltender in the tournament, missed the game with the flu. Kari Lehtonen replaced him.

But what will haunt Finland most is when it wasted a five-on-three, a chance that gave new meaning to the term "golden opportunity," in the first period. If there was one play that captured a frustrating day for the Finns it was when a wide-open Teemu Selanne's low shot from the weak side was blocked by Lundqvist's right pad barely an inch from crossing into the goal.

(c)2014 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

Visit The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) at www.ocregister.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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SWEDEN, FINLAND


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