By Frank Pingue
TORONTO (Reuters) – Jacob Markstrom stepped in admirably for Henrik Lundqvist as Sweden held on to beat Russia while Team North America dazzled in their debut with a dominant win over Finland at the World Cup of Hockey on Sunday.
Markstrom, who started in place of an ill Lundqvist, kept Russia’s potent scoring attack off the board until Alex Ovechkin scored with 33 seconds remaining but Sweden hung on for a 2-1 win in the tournament opener for both teams.
“You got to be ready every time you come to the rink,” said Markstrom, 26, who only learned he was starting in net a couple hours before the game.
“You can’t just come in with a muffin and hot chocolate… you got to prepare yourself and get the body to be ready if it’s time to go.”
Lundqvist is one of the finest goaltenders of his generation and a key reason why Sweden are expected to reach the gold medal game on Oct. 1, but Markstrom showed he was up for the challenge as he made 27 saves in the win.
Markstrom, who has competed in world championships and has won a gold medal on the international stage, had little time to settle in as he was forced to stop a Vladimir Tarasenko one-timer 30 seconds into the game.
Sweden’s Gabriel Landeskog opened the scoring in the second period when his slapshot from just outside the faceoff circle glanced off the post and past the screened Russian goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky.
Victor Hedman doubled Sweden’s lead two minutes later when he came off the bench and immediately took a feed from Carl Hagelin and sent a one-timer into the net for what proved to be the game-winner.
Russia appeared to tie the game with seven seconds left in regulation but a video review showed the puck went into the Swedish net off Ovechkin’s glove.
Sweden face Finland on Tuesday.
For Russia, the loss puts added significance on their Monday clash with Team North America, a potent mix of U.S. and Canadian players under the age of 23 who got their three-game group stage off to a flying start.
Team North America, a talent-laden squad dismissed by many as gimmicky when the tournament format was announced, cruised to a 4-1 win over Finland, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalists who also won a silver medal at this year’s world championships.
American Jack Eichel put North America on the board five minutes into the game before the young guns put the Group B clash out of Finland’s reach with a three-goal second period.
U.S. winger Johnny Gaudreau and Canadian Jonathan Drouin scored during a two-minute span while Canadian Nathan MacKinnon added another with about five minutes to go in the second.
Finland, who were outshot 43-25, spoiled Canadian Matt Murray’s shutout bid when Valtteri Filppula scored with about four minutes to play.
“We’re so undervalued and so unknown. No one really knows what we can do, we take that role and run with it,” said Team North America captain Connor McDavid.
“We’re playing the Russians tomorrow, a hockey giant, it’s going to be a good test for us but we’re excited about it.”
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Turner; Editing by Larry Fine/Sudipto Ganguly)