HAMILTON, ONTARIO, SEPT. 8 -- The Canada Cup is on course to its dream matchup. The Soviet Union, behind a deadly power play and the superb goaltending of Sergei Mylnikov, eliminated weary Sweden, 4-2, tonight in the semifinals.
The Soviets' opponent in the best-of-three final will be the winner of Wednesday's game in Montreal between Canada and Czechoslovakia. If by some quirk it should be the Czechs, a lot of final tickets are going to be available at bargain prices.
Only 7,051 turned up tonight to see the Soviets gain a measure of revenge against the team that won the world championship in May and then whipped the Soviets, 5-3, in the Canada Cup opener.
That was before the Swedes embarked on an odyssey that would have tired Ulysses. As a result, it was obvious their only chance tonight was to grab an early lead and try to hang on. Mylnikov denied them that opportunity by stopping all 14 shots that came his way in the first period.
"If we get a couple of goals, it's a different game," said Swedish captain Bengt Gustafsson. "But he made some big saves and they got ahead.
"We were tired, we can't deny that. In the second and third periods, we would go good for one shift, then at a lower level for the next two or three. But if we'd gotten a couple of early goals, we probably would have found the legs."
It was curious that whereas Canada played a full 60 minutes Sunday without yielding a power play to the Soviets, the Swedes could not get through one minute tonight without becoming shorthanded.
Gustafsson, who returns to NHL play with the Capitals next month, was called for hooking Sergei Makarov 39 seconds into the game. Thirty seconds later, the Soviets were ahead to stay, Makarov freeing the puck from goalie Peter Lindmark's glove as he covered the puck on the ice and Vladimir Krutov shoving it home for his fifth goal of the tournament.
It was the first of two power-play goals, in four tries, for the Soviets. Sweden connected once in five attempts.
"Our power play was too bad," said Swedish Coach Tommy Sandlin. "We had some good opportunities to score there, but our scorers were too tired. There were two tired teams tonight and not so good ice."
The Swedes tried hard to bounce back, but Mylnikov made sensational saves on Thom Eklund and Mats Naslund, who even raised his stick in triumph before realizing Mylnikov had smothered his point-blank drive.
Viacheslav Bykov and Igor Larionov scored 68 seconds apart in the second period to break the game open. Larionov connected on a power play, Naslund having gone off for hooking before the Swedes had time to digest Bykov's goal.
Although Jonas Bergqvist put Sweden on the scoreboard before the period ended, Makarov matched linemate Krutov's fifth tournament goal in the third to remove any doubt of the outcome.
Former Washington defenseman Peter Andersson completed the scoring on a power play late in the game. Andersson played well all night and was voted Sweden's best player.
Lindmark, who has been talking with Washington about an NHL shot in 1988-89, faced only 24 shots, but he made some superb saves as the Soviets repeatedly passed the puck around until they were ready to launch a testing shot.
It was not a completely rosy night for the skaters in red. Winger Sergei Svetlov, who played so well in the victory over the United States and the tie with Canada, broke his left arm when he fell during his first shift of the game.
Even the Soviets are hoping that Canada beats Czechoslovakia Wednesday, so that the world's two best teams can meet in the final.
"It's not a bad idea to play Canada," said assistant coach Igor Dimitriev through an interpreter. "The fans in the Soviet Union also want us to play against Canada."
Asked who he thought would prevail in a Canada-Soviet final, Sandlin said, "It will be a good final. I hope it will be good refereeing, so the Russians will have a fair chance. If it will be the same kind of refereeing as the last time they met, Canada must win."
Mike Noeth, an NHL referee, officiated Sunday's 3-3 tie here and awarded five power plays to Canada, none to the Soviets, in a one-sided display. Don Koharski, another NHL official, called tonight's contest and there were no complaints from either side.
Sandlin, however, claimed that the tournament was "arranged" for Canada to win and he said, "This is a summer tournament for the Canadians. This Canada Cup is not a sport tournament, it is a business.
"Our team has traveled 9,000 kilometers, the next team 4,500 and the Canadian team only 2,000. There may be better players here -- for Canada, anyway -- but the world championships are a fair test. This is not."