BUFFALO, N.Y. — Oskar Steen and Axel Jonsson Fjallby helped put Sweden in position for its first world junior hockey gold medal in six years.
Steen and Jonsson Fjallby scored short-handed goals in the third period as Sweden earned a 4-2 semifinal win over the United States on Thursday. That moved the Swedes closer to their first gold medal since 2012.
Sweden has been a dominant force in this tournament since ’07, having amassed a 44-0 preliminary round record. But over that span the Swedes have just the one gold medal to show for it.
On Friday, Sweden will face either Canada or the Czech Republic in the tournament final.
“First round is one thing, then playoffs is another,” said Swedish head coach Tomas Monten. “You play a lot better teams, you’ve just got to get an edge.
“We got that today and I think we grew in the game. We stuck with it and that’s why we’re in the final.”
Elias Petterson and Lias Andersson had the other goals for Sweden while goaltender Filip Gustavsson made 29 saves.
Kieffer Bellows and Brady Tkachuk scored for the U.S. to cut into a 4-0 deficit in the third. Joseph Woll stopped 16 shots before being replaced by Jake Oettinger after allowing Sweden’s final goal.
The Americans, who won gold last year in Montreal, will play the loser of the Canada-Czech Republic semifinal for the bronze medal. The U.S. was attempting to become the first country to win consecutive gold medals since Canada won five straight from 2005-09.
“We got going, we got on a roll, the injuries didn’t make a big impact on our team,” said American coach Bob Motzko. “We had two players down and we stuck (Logan) Brown back in there late.
“Some of those things are tough to overcome and I’m not saying that for an excuse. I’m not a huge study of this tournament year after year but when you’re fighting for the 12 days or the 22 days we’ve been going at it, certain things can back you off. We’re so disappointed right now. We were on the bench going ‘This is not us. What’s going on?’ You wanted to clap your hands and get it to change.”
Sweden came into Thursday’s contest having won just four of its past 10 semifinal games and hasn’t won a medal in this event since earning silver in 2014.
“I’ve been looking forward to this a long time now,” said Swedish forward Alex Nylander. “It’s my third year here, I haven’t won a medal yet and this year we’re going for gold.
“We’ve just got to work hard and play the way we played (Thursday).”
Sweden surged to a 4-0 lead in the third with three goals before the midway mark of the period.
Andersson put Sweden ahead 2-0 at 6:17, finishing off a nice give-and-go play with Fredrik Karlstrom for his sixth goal of the tournament. Then came two short-handed goals 38 seconds apart.
Steen made it 3-0 at 7:47, shooting on a 2-on-1 rush with Nylander and beating Woll high to the blocker side. Jonsson Fjallby then picked up a loose puck and beat Woll high on his glove side to end the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect’s night.
The two goals were just two seconds shy of the tournament record for the fastest two short-handed goals.
“They did a good job of pressuring us on the power play,” Bellows said of the short-handed goals. “They’re a really good team and they came out hard and they played really well.
“Credit to Sweden, they’re a really good team.”
Bellows ended Gustavsson’s shutout bid with 7:36 remaining. Bellows came out from the corner to the front of the net and beat the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect for his seventh tournament goal.
Tkachuk pulled the U.S. to within 4-2 with 3:01 remaining, firing a loose puck past Gustavsson. The Americans had a glorious chance to further cut the deficit by going on the power play with 2:02 remaining but couldn’t convert.
Pettersson opened the scoring on the power play with his fifth goal of the tournament at 13:30 of the second.
NOTES: Thurman Thomas, the former Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame running back, performed the ceremonial opening faceoff.