SOCHI, Russia — “Everything.”
That’s what Henrik Lundqvist says Sweden will miss about Henrik Zetterberg.
Which, when you think about it, is quite a lot.
“Leadership,” Lundqvist went on. “His coolness in big moments. Big plays at both ends of the ice. It’s going to be tough to replace him. I don’t think you can.”
But the Swedes don’t have any choice but to go on without their captain. Zetterberg won’t play again in these Olympics; the 33-year-old has a herniated disc in his back.
“He is still suffering from his back injury and it is so painful for him that he can’t be in it any more. It is Z who has taken this decision together with me,” team doctor Bjorn Waldeback said. “I think it is the cumulative load. There was no specific thing that happened in [Wednesday’s game versus the Czech Republic]. The issues came the morning after. These are nerve-related issues and they often come creeping in. It is not one specific injury.”
The injury is a massive blow to a team that came into the Games with many picking it to win gold. Sweden was already without Henrik Sedin, who didn’t make the trip to Russia because of a rib injury. Nicklas Backstrom is all that’s left now of its top three centers.
“His presence all over the ice, defense and offense,” forward Daniel Alfredsson said when asked what Zetterberg brings to a team. “It’s incredible. He can set the pace of the game. It’s a tough blow for us. It’s something we have to deal with. We all feel for him. But now we have to replace him and move forward. We can’t sit and dwell on this, but it’s sad.”
Friday at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, it was Alfredsson who stepped up and scored with 7:21 remaining to give Sweden a 1-0 victory over Switzerland. The result just as easily could’ve been a loss, however, with Lundqvist needing to be excellent, particularly at the outset.
“They were all over us the first 10 minutes of the game,” Lundqvist said. “They had so much speed. But then we settled things down. Second half of the first period we started to take over the game. In the second and third I thought we played really well and controlled the game well.”
On one occasion in the first, Lundqvist robbed Switzerland’s Denis Hollenstein with a right pad save.
“It was a panic save,” he said. “It was just a reaction save, kind of lucky that I had time to come back.”
Lundqvist made 26 saves for the shutout, half of them in the first. Sweden righted itself and outshot Switzerland 26-13 in the second and third periods.
“If we can play like we did today for 40 minutes, we’ve got a chance (to win gold)”, said forward Daniel Sedin. “But we need to tighten up defensively, that’s going to be our only chance. We can’t play the run and gun.”
Certainly, there’s still much to like about the Tre Kronor. Lundqvist, for one. There’s also its deep, mobile blue line featuring talented youngsters Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, plus veteran presence Niklas Kronwall. And even minus two elite centers, there remains plenty of ability up front, with the likes of Backstrom, Sedin, Alfredsson, Alexander Steen, Loui Eriksson, Gabriel Landeskog, and Zetterberg’s replacement in the top six, Patrik Berglund.
“It’s tough for us, but we feel we have depth to step up,” said Alfredsson. “And Patrik Berglund played solid for us today, and going forward he’s going to be a big piece.”
At the same time, for all the talk of depth and stepping up, the Swedes’ gold-medal hopes have taken a hit. That’s just being realistic. And coming to any less of a conclusion would be to understate the importance of Zetterberg, something his teammates clearly aren’t willing to do.