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WINTER OLYMPICS

Belarus pushes Sweden to limit in physical game

The Belarusians fight back from 3-0 down and nearly tie the score before losing, 4-2.

February 20, 2010|By Helene Elliott

Reporting from Vancouver, Canada — Scrappy, physical Belarus came tantalizingly close to upending defending gold medalist Sweden and pulling off another Olympic hockey upset.

Konstantin Zakharov clanged a shot off the crossbar about 12 minutes into the third period Friday shortly after his team had pulled to within a goal, and Andrei Stas forced goaltender Jonas Gustavsson to make a quick arm save on a desperate try to tie the score with 40 seconds left, triggering gasps from the crowd at Canada Hockey Place.

But unlike the 2002 Games, when Belarus upset Sweden in the quarterfinals behind spectacular goalie Andrei Mezin, the Belarusians this time absorbed a noble 4-2 loss.

"As a positive, you can look at it as a belief in ourselves. We got our confidence back a little bit the last two periods, especially the last five minutes of the game when we scored that goal," said Belarus captain Ruslan Salei of Colorado, a former Duck.

"You try to tell the guys that you can compete with anybody in the world and until they feel that it's hard to explain. The last 40 minutes of the game I hope they feel that we can compete with them."

Sweden, which opened the defense of its title with a shutout of Germany, expected and got a tough time Friday. "It was good for us, but I don't know if we wanted it this close," Peter Forsberg said. "We really would have liked to win by more goals."

In a game punctuated by teeth-rattling hits by both teams, Sweden scored twice on its 17 first-period shots against Mezin.

On Sweden's first goal, at 6:40, Henrik Sedin threw the puck into the slot, where his twin, Daniel, picked it up and rifled it past Mezin's arm from the inside edge of the right faceoff circle.

Sweden made it 2-0 on a power play at 9:04. Magnus Johnasson, who plays in the Swedish Elite League, made a cross-ice pass that Daniel Alfredsson converted just before he crashed into the post and dislodged the net.

Johan Franzen, a late roster substitute for injured Red Wings teammate Tomas Holmstrom, gave Sweden a 3-0 lead when he one-timed a fine backhand pass from former Duck Samuel Pahlsson.

But then came Belarus.

"We got too confident," said Sweden Coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, a fine defensive player in his NHL days. "We started cutting corners."

Belarus forced Gustavsson to make several stops, including a kick save while on his back, before Dmitri Meleshko flipped the puck over him during a power play to cut Sweden's lead to 3-1 at 14:40 of the second period.

Meleshko, who plays in Russia's KHL, scored again at 11:33 of the third period on the rebound of a shot by Aleksandr Kulakov off the right wing.

About 30 seconds later, Zakharov rifled a shot that caromed loudly off the crossbar.

"It's fun to play these games just because you know how hard they're going to work. They have nothing to lose," Alfredsson said.

Slap shots

Ducks winger Teemu Selanne on Friday became the top career scorer in Olympic history with an assist on Finland's third goal against Germany. His 37th point in five Olympic hockey tournaments broke the record he had shared with Canada's Harry Watson, Vlastimil Bubnik of Czechoslovkia and Valeri Kharlamov of Russia. . . . European players are supposed to dislike playing on NHL-size ice, which is 15 feet narrower than international rinks. But defenseman Niklas Kronwall of Sweden and the Red Wings said he likes playing this tournament on the smaller rink because it promotes a more physical game. "It feels good. I think this is the way the game should be played in all the leagues in the world, to be honest with you," he said. "It gives the game a little bit better pace, I think."

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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