Alfredsson scores twice, Sweden escapes Belarus by winning 4-2

By Alan Robinson, AP
Friday, February 19, 2010

Swedes hold off Belarus, win 4-2

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Daniel Alfredsson scored twice and defending gold medalist Sweden avoided a monumental upset against outmanned Belarus like that in 2002, winning 4-2 Friday for its second successive Olympic hockey victory.

Daniel Sedin, playing in his NHL home arena, and Johan Franzen, part of what might be hockey’s best fourth line, added goals as Sweden took what looked to be a safe 3-0 lead. But Belarus, despite generating few offensive rushes and scoring chances, got two goals from Dmitri Meleshko to make it close.

Too close for the Swedes, who have spent eight years wondering how they could have possibly lost to Belarus 4-3 in Salt Lake City — a mini-miracle on ice that represents the Olympics’ biggest upset since the United States beat the Soviet Union in 1980.

Belarus, with only two NHL players to Sweden’s 19, tried reviving some of the magic of Salt Lake City, when goalie Andrei Mezin made 47 saves. Mezin started in goal again and made 34 saves. But, this time, Sweden — a possible gold medalist in 2002 if it had beaten Belarus — didn’t cave.

The Vancouver crowd, rooting for the underdog, began chanting, “Bel-a-rus, Bel-a-rus” after Meleshko scored at 14:40 of the third to turn a close but not uncomfortable game for the Swedes into a dangerously close one. Sweden didn’t finish it off until Alfredsson, scoreless in Sweden’s opening game 2-0 victory over Germany, scored with 10.4 seconds remaining.

Sedin also assisted on Alfredsson’s second goal. Twin brother Henrik Sedin, who also plays for the Vancouver Canucks, had two assists as Sweden joined the United States as the only teams in the 12-team field to win each of its first two games in regulation.

Sweden now heads into Sunday’s Nordic showdown against Finland, which it beat in the 2006 gold medal game.

Despite that 2002 debacle against tiny Belarus, Swede coach Bengt Ake Gustafsson didn’t start regular goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who was spotted in a TV booth. Backup goalie Jonas Gustafsson stopped 17 shots but couldn’t prevent Meleshko from finding the net twice. Meleshko had 10 goals in 409 games for the Minsk Dynamo of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

Meleshko’s first goal came at 14:40 of the second on a power play. As Gustafsson sprawled on the ice amid a tangle of players in the crease, Alexander Kulakov appeared to deflect it into the net, but the goal was later awarded to Meleshko.

OK, they were saying back in Sweden, it’s still a two-goal game. Nothing to get nervous apart.

That changed when Meleshko scored again at 11:33 of the third, no doubt creating some anxious moments in Sweden — where fans are hoping an aging team that returns 13 players from the 2006 Turin Olympics has one more medal left in it.

If nothing else, the Swedes had enough to finish this one out, unlike 2002. Then, Vladimir Kopat’s 70-foot shot that bounced off goalie Tommy Salo’s facemask and into the net created one of the worst moments in Swedish sports history.

The Franzen goal turned out to be pivotal. The Detroit Red Wings forward known as the Mule wasn’t added to the Swedish team until just before the games began due to an injured left knee and broken foot.

Franzen, who has been playing on the Swedes’ fourth line, took Sami Pahlsson’s pass from behind the net and swept it into the net under Mezin’s glove at 9:35 of the second.

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