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Zetterberg injury may help U.S., Canada

Friday, 02.14.2014 / 11:55 AM ET / News
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Zetterberg injury may help U.S., Canada

SOCHI -- After another huge blow for Sweden, it feels like the Black Sea is parting for the North American teams at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Sweden captain Henrik Zetterberg is out of the tournament with a herniated disk in his back, the Swedish Hockey Federation announced Friday.

Sweden has one of the deepest rosters in the tournament, but losing Zetterberg is particularly tough because the team was already without center Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks. Before the Olympics, a trio of Sedin, Zetterberg and Nicklas Backstrom was equal to Canada’s top three and superior to any other team in Sochi.

Now Backstrom is the last man standing, and the Washington Capitals center will need to take a starring role for the Swedes if they are to remain gold-medal contenders. Patrik Berglund looks like the best bet to slide into the No. 2 role, with Marcus Kruger likely on the third line. Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson, who replaced Sedin on the final roster, could end up in the middle of the fourth line.

"It's a tough loss," said Daniel Alfredsson, who scored the only goal Friday in a 1-0 win against Switzerland. "We had a few of those before the Olympics as well. It is just like anything -- you deal with it and move on. We're going to be thinking about Henrik for the rest of tournament. He'll be with us. We're going to move forward. We have good depth on our team, and Berglund stepping up is going to play a big role for us going forward. Nothing changes as far as our goals or what we want to accomplish as far as our goals."

The Swedes also were without Red Wings veteran Johan Franzen, who can play center. Backstrom, Berglund and Kruger may play well, but the position is no longer an overwhelming strength for Tre Konor.

Sweden has defeated the Czech Republic, the second-best team in Group C, as well as Switzerland, essentially wrapping up the top spot in the group and a bye into the quarterfinals.

"Yeah, we've got a lot of injuries," Vancouver Canucks forward Daniel Sedin said. "That's when you need other guys to step up and this was a big win. If we get the win [Saturday] then we're going to win the group and that means a lot."

Before injury woes befell Sweden, it was neighbor and rival Finland that began this tournament with significant issues at center. Its top three players at the position -- Mikko Koivu, Saku Koivu and Valtteri Filppula -- were not available because of injury. Finland is using NHL rookie Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers on its top line.

Sweden defeated Finland in the gold-medal game at the 2006 Turin Olympics, which was the last time the Olympics were staged in Europe. Those teams are now without five of their top six centers.

The United States and Canada struggled in Turin and at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, each time finishing out of the medals. Suddenly, the path to the gold-medal game looks easier to navigate for the Americans and Canadians.

The Russians are certainly going to be a major roadblock, but center Pavel Datsyuk, also of the Red Wings, may not be 100 percent after recently returning from an injury.

If there are issues for the North American countries adapting to the larger ice, because of the travel, or whatever else has been a problem in the past, other gold-medal contenders losing key players to injury will help negate some of those factors.

Center was considered a weakness for the United States before the 2013-14 NHL season started, but Ryan Kesler has been healthy after two seasons that were decidedly not for the Canucks. San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski is among the League leaders in goals.

And now there is no other team in Sochi that can match Canada down the middle in depth or talent.

Sweden is still one of the strongest teams in the competition on defense and in goal with New York Rangers star Henrik Lundqvist. The Swedes might have to lean on their goal prevention more with so much offense out of the lineup.

“Of course it's nothing one wishes for, but we have to see the possibilities and look forward,” Marts said.

Sweden can win gold in Sochi, but the chances for the Canadians and Americans improved Friday before either team played its second game.

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
H. Zetterberg 82 13 37 -15 50
P. Datsyuk 66 16 33 7 49
D. Larkin 80 23 22 11 45
T. Tatar 81 21 24 4 45
G. Nyquist 82 17 26 -2 43
J. Abdelkader 82 19 23 -16 42
M. Green 74 7 28 -6 35
B. Richards 68 10 18 4 28
D. Helm 77 13 13 -2 26
N. Kronwall 64 3 23 -21 26
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
P. Mrazek 27 16 6 .921 2.33
J. Howard 14 14 5 .906 2.80