Swedish defenceman Erik Karlsson blasted a pair of goals in a 4-2 win over the Czech Republic on Wednesday as the Olympic men’s ice hockey competition got underway at the Sochi Winter Games.
Switzerland also made a winning start, a 1-0 victory over a battling Latvia, but the tournament kicks into high gear when the big three of Canada, the United States and Russia take to the ice on Thursday.
Sweden, with the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist, a mobile, puck-moving defence led by Karlsson and plenty of firepower up front, signalled they are serious contenders for the Olympic title they last won at the 2006 Turin Games.
“We came out really strong in the first, controlled the pace and got an early 2-0 lead and maybe had a down period in the second but that is nothing to worry about,” said Karlsson.
“Obviously it feels nice to contribute with a couple of goals, I play with great players and sometimes you just have to be in the right spot and hit the net.”
Karlsson opened the scoring midway through the first period and added a powerplay tally in the second as the Swedes charged to a 4-0 lead.
But the Czechs hit back with two quick-fire goals 1:49 apart from Marek Zidlicky and evergreen Jaromir Jagr, a member the 1998 gold medal winning team who will celebrate his 42nd birthday on Saturday.
Captain Henrik Zetterberg and Patrik Berglund had the other Sweden goals.
The Czechs outshot the Swedes 15-5 in the final period but could not get another puck past Lundqvist, who was back in net after backstopping the Swedes to the gold in Turin.
“It was fun to be out there again,” said Lundqvist. “I’m happy about the way we regrouped. It was a good start.
“Our mindset going into tonight was that you want to win the game but you also want to start building something.”
In the other group game of the day, Simon Moser fired home the winner in the dying seconds to give the Swiss a heart-stopping 1-0 victory over Latvia at Shayba Arena.
The Swiss, who won silver at last year’s world championships, found Latvian goalie Edgars Masalskis in top form and it looked like the game would go to overtime until Moser’s shot ricocheted off a Latvian player and into the net with eight seconds left to play.