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  Sweden Wins on Forsberg's Shot in Shootout

By Johnette Howard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 28, 1994; Page C1

LILLEHAMMER, Norway, Feb. 27 — There were breathless end-to-end rushes, desperation comebacks and not a shred of surrender in either team, not even after the grueling overtime had come and gone. By the time the sudden-death shootout arrived, Sweden's Kenny Joensson had skated off unsteadily after being knocked unconscious, Canada's Todd Hlusko had a wicked mouse under one eye and teammate Greg Johnson played on with a nasty line of knitted black stitches curling over the bridge of his nose like a centipede.

This was the curtain-closing event of the XVII Winter Games, one more rousing memory to heap atop the others made in Lillehammer over the past 16 days. Until today, Sweden had never won the hockey gold medal at the Winter Olympics and Canada, the cradle of the sport, hasn't seized one in 42 years.

But somehow, rather than succumb to the pressure or wilt from desire, the two teams played a hockey game for the ages through 60 throat-constricting minutes of regulation, and the 10-minute overtime, and that heart-stopping shootout that was ended on the seventh go-round by a kid center named Peter Forsberg, who spends much of his time insisting he'd rather pass than score.

With the crowd screaming as he took the puck at center ice, Forsberg came bearing down, bearing down, bearing down on Canadian goalie Corey Hirsch until, near the goal crease, he hesitated with the puck on his stick for what felt like an interminable amount of time.

Hirsch finally flinched first when it seemed only four feet or so separated the two men. And Forsberg — stickhandling the puck right, then left, then right again now — slid an agonizingly slow backhand shot along the ice, just under Hirsch's glove just a millisecond before the glove hit ice.

"I thought I had it," Hirsch said.

When 19-year-old Canadian Paul Kariya couldn't answer Forsberg's challenge — floating a shot toward the high right corner that Swedish goalie Tommy Salo slapped out of the air with his glove — Sweden had its first Olympic hockey gold, 3-2, and Canada settled for silver for the second time in the past two Olympic Games.

For Canada, picked to finish as low as seventh by some folks back home, the loss was especially disappointing because victory looked ensured in regulation.

After failing to dent Sweden's Salo through the first 50 minutes of regulation, the Canadians scored twice in three minutes on screaming slap shots by Kariya, then Derek Mayer, to seize a 2-1 lead with 8:17 remaining. The margin still looked good until defenseman Brad Werenka leveled former National Hockey League star Mats Naslund in front of the net, then threw back his head and winced in horror when referee's right arm went up signaling a penalty with 2:10 to play.

Sweden needed just 21 seconds to score.

Defenseman Magnus Svensson took the puck in the middle of the blue line and Hirsch — screened completely by a four-man scrum in front of the net — had no chance to see, let alone stop, the bullet that Svensson rifled by his right elbow, snapping back the back of the net. "I couldn't believe it," Naslund said, still smiling two hours after the game. "When they scored to make it 2-1, it looked pretty hopeless. I didn't think we were going to get a power-play chance. I didn't think the referee was going to call anything."

The overtime was much like regulation, with the Swedes running their breathtaking, patterned offense that relies on pinpoint passing and some striking stickhandling and skating, and the Canadians playing their grinding, board-crashing, dump-and-chase game. Both sides had chances to score — in one sequence, after Forsberg roared in and missed wide right, Kariya took the puck end-to-end and blasted a shot that got by Salo but went just to the left of the net.

From there it was on to the shootout — five designated shooters from each team taking turns shooting penalty shots at the other's goalie. If the score is still tied after that — as it was at 2-2 today — the shootout becomes sudden death and the team that scores the first unanswered goal wins.

When the sudden-death format kicked in, Forsberg got his second chance. Though veterans such as Naslund marveled at the gall of Forsberg's winning shot, Forsberg said he actually couldn't take credit for the move since he stole it from fellow Swede Kent Nilsson, who played eight seasons in the NHL.

"I saw him use it in the 1989 world championships," said Forsberg, who will join the Quebec Nordiques when his club team's season ends, "but today, I didn't really make it right. By the time I drew my stick back I was too far to the left side of the net."

It worked. While Swedes celebrated, Canada went home stricken. Players from both sides agreed the shootout format didn't seem a fitting way to end such an important game. Especially considering how fiercely, even heroically, it had been played.

Sweden's Naslund said he didn't like it because "it's too much luck." Canada's Hlusko said, "I think any Canadian or American player would tell you they'd prefer to play three overtime periods, four overtime periods — whatever it takes."

And Forsberg, well, he tried to be circumspect as always, absorbing slaps on the back and congratulations for making the most of the chances he had. But he knew too that he'd just made history for Sweden. When asked what he thought about sudden death, he allowed himself a small smile and said, "Today it was."

After 70 minutes of play — regulation plus overtime — Canada and Sweden were tied, 2-2. Each team then was given five penalty shots — shot by five different players on each team — and each team scored on two of them. That led to a sudden-death shootout.

In sudden death, two players — one from each team — get one penalty shot each. The first two — Sweden's Magnus Svensson and Canada's Peter Nedved — each had their shots blocked.

Then Peter Forsberg scored for Sweden. That meant that Canada's Paul Kariya — who played for 1993 NCAA champion Maine — would have to make his shot or Canada would lose. Swedish goalie Tommy Salo blocked the 19-year-old's shot with his pad, and Sweden had the gold medal.

The shootout system was adopted in 1988 and was used three times before Sunday. In the 1992 quarterfinals, Canada won a sudden-death shootout against Germany and went on to the silver medal.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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