Finland took on Sweden in front of a capacity crowd in Tampere as the excitement around the 2022 World Championship moved up another notch. This Nordic rivalry was the most eagerly anticipated clash of the group stage, and it went all the way to a shoot-out before Sweden took the verdict.

It took some time to warm up. In the first period, Sweden was content to play the kind of game more often associated with Finland: cautious, protective of its zone and looking for counter attacking opportunities. Those tactics paid off: not only was the impressive Finnish power play twice blunted, Sweden also grabbed the only goal of the frame when Adam Larsson scored on the wraparound in the 12th minute.

Finland hit back at the start of the second period with Mikko Lehtonen maintaining his blistering form. The former SKA defenseman added a goal and an assist to his tally and now has 6 (2+4) points for his county in Tampere. Magnus Hellberg will surely want his tying goal back after the Swede allowed a point shot to squirm through his defenses, but there was nothing the former HC Sochi man could do to deny Sami Vatanen after Lehtonen’s pin-point pass picked him out at the back door to make it 2-1.

The Tre Kronor did not falter in the face of some raucous hometown support and got level early in the third period when Joel Kellman’s redirect beat Harri Sateri in the Finnish net. That took the game into the extras, where Teemu Hartikainen was close to winning it for Finland.

Hellberg padded his effort away, though, and then kept his goal intact throughout the shoot-out. At the other end, Emil Bemstrom was the only player to convert his attempt and Sweden took the win and top spot in the group.

Switzerland goes top of Group A

In Helsinki, Slovakia went down 3-5 against Switzerland. The Swiss took an early lead through Denis Malgin, but Severstal’s Adam Liska was involved in a first-period equalizer for the Slovaks. He had an assist on Milos Roman’s effort midway through the frame.

In a lively game, Slovakia consistently pegged the Swiss back but ultimately could not stay the course. Third-period goals from Nico Hishchier and Fabrice Herzog gave Switzerland the verdict. That’s four straight wins for the Swiss, who now top Group A with 12 points.

Earlier in the day, Norway’s 5-3 victory over Austria went a long way towards securing the Scandinavians’ top-flight status for another year. Mats Rosseli Olsen led the scoring with two goals as the Norwegians jump four points clear of eighth-placed Great Britain. Austria seems likely to face a survival showdown with the Brits in its final game.

In Group A, France hit back late in the game to get an overtime victory over Italy. Luca Frigo’s goal seemed to have Italy on its way to a first win in Helsinki, only for Sascha Treille to tie it up late in the game. Hugo Gallet got the winner after 61 minutes. Italy’s point moves it ahead of Kazakhstan at the foot of the table, but the two nations are yet to meet in this year’s tournament.

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