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World Cup Semi-Final Preview: Sweden vs. Team Europe

Sweden looks to end Team Europe's improbable run

Hockey: World Cup of Hockey-Team North America vs Team Sweden Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

St.Louis has been getting much more Swedish as of late. We finally got an Ikea after decades of pining for a decent furniture store that wasn’t all the way in Chicago. Alexander Steen recently signed a four-year contract, and Magnus Paajarvi continues to stick around just to keep Ty Rattie company in Hitchcock’s doghouse the press box.

Listen, I love you Sweden, but I’m pulling for the Europeans. They’re scrappy, and basically no one likes them. I would love to see Team Europe pull off the upset and destroy any possibility of decent ratings for the World Cup Final. All that being said, the smart money is on Sweden and their robotic style of cycling, passing, and Sedinage that has made them an international powerhouse.

Sweden

Canucks fans have been excited about the Sedins meshing with Loui Eriksson, and they’ve demonstrated some incredible chemistry in the offensive zone. Berglund has managed to notch a single goal, but otherwise, has been held off the score-sheet throughout the tournament. Karlsson has proven to be the backbone of the Swedish team, quarterbacking the power play and logging serious ice time. You have to imagine he’ll be tasked with keeping Zuccarello and Draisaitl in check during the semi-final.

Sweden has everything. They’ve got puck-moving defensemen in Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Erik Karlsson. They’ve got skill and speed up front with Backstrom, Forsberg, Landoskog, Hagelin, and Eriksson. Jacob Markstrom and Henrik Lundqvist are world-class goaltenders, and have played incredibly well when called upon. They’ve got depth at every position. If you’re pulling for Team Canada, it’s the Swedes, not the Russians or the Euro-stars that you should be worried about. You would be hard-pressed to find a better example on the planet of a team playing as a single unit. Their puck movement is remarkable. Their poise and patience with the puck is suburb. Their King even seems like a pretty chill guy. What’s not to like about Sweden?

Europe

During the exhibition schedule leading up to the World Cup, I found myself pulling for Team Europe. They were outscored in their first two games by Team North America 11 to 4. They looked as helpless as your little brother in Mario Kart when you gave him the MadCatz controller.

Team Europe bounced back, and followed up their blowout losses with a stunning 6-2 drubbing of Team Sweden. Then, the Europeans eliminated the ‘gritty’ and ‘caring nucleus’ of the Americans with a shutout victory. Suddenly, they’re an underdog making waves in a tournament that many people believed was directly engineered to bounce them out as early as possible.

Former Blue Jaroslav Halak has largely carried Team Europe, recording an impressive 1.98 GAA and a .946 save percentage - good for third overall in the tournament behind Carey Price and Sergei Bobrovsky, respectively. A hot goaltender down the stretch can be invaluable, but can Jaro produce another miracle against the soulless Swedish cycling machine? They’ll need THE ZUCC to provide some offense alongside Kopitar and Gaborik if they have any chance of advancing in the World Cup.