Belarus Upsets Sweden in Men's Hockey
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah – The shot couldn't possibly go in, but it did. Sweden couldn't possibly lose, but it did. And the kind of upset that couldn't possibly happen with NHL players now dominating the Olympics is a reality.
Vladimir Kopat scored on a 70-foot shot that bounced wildly off goalie Tommy Salo's head with only 2:24 remaining and Belarus scored one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history Wednesday, beating Sweden 4-3 in the hockey quarterfinals.
"It's unbelievable. It happened accidentally. Our last goal was lucky," said Belarusian forward Vladimir Tsyplakov. "Then again, our team played pretty well too. We deserved to win."
In a stunning game reminiscent of the United States' "Miracle on Ice" over the Soviet Union in 1980, Belarus -- outscored 16-2 in its previous two games and listed as a 10-million-to-1 shot to win the gold medal -- pulled off one of the greatest team upsets in any sport in any Olympics.
"I don't understand how we could lose today against this team," Swedish captain Mats Sundin said. "We give away three of their four goals and you can't win that way, it doesn't matter who you're playing."
The only comparable Olympic hockey upsets were the United States' 4-3 victory over the Soviets in 1980 and Great Britain's 2-1 win over Canada in 1936.
As the game ended, the stunned Swedes -- easily the best team in the Olympics until now -- stood silently at their end of the ice as the Belarusian players swarmed goalie Andrei Mezin, who stopped 44 shots. Mezin has played for five U.S. minor league teams, but has never come close to playing in the NHL.
"It's a devastating loss for us and our country," Swedish forward Markus Naslund. "I give them credit, they played smart. Their goalie was outstanding."
During practice Tuesday, Belarus coach Vladimir Krikunov reminded his players of the United States' victory at Lake Placid in 1980, though even he didn't realistically think a team with only one NHL player could beat a team as good as Sweden.
But Belarus, as improbable a semifinalist as there as ever been in Olympic hockey, will play the winner of Wednesday's Canada-Finland game on Friday.
Belarus, which survived a week of preliminary round play just to reach the field of eight and then was outscored 22-6 in its three pool-play games, had lost its two most recent games by 8-1 scores, to the United States and Finland.
Sweden, an overwhelming favorite that didn't play with any desperation or fear until the third period, had tied it at 3 on Sundin's goal at 7:56 of the third. But Kopat's game-winning shot, which will be replayed countless times, came from the Olympic rings near midice and ricocheted off Salo's headgear, bounced behind him and scooted into the net as he searched frantically for it.
Even Ruslan Salei, Belarus' only NHL player said afterward, "It was a lucky goal."
Despite Sweden coach Hardy Nilsson's prophetic admonition that "it's a quarterfinal and you never know," his players didn't seem to believe him, especially after the game started predictably with a Nicklas Lidstrom power-play goal with only 3:10 game.
But Sweden, so fast and efficient in beating both Canada and the Czech Republic in round-robin play, got sloppy and careless after that, once almost allowing a goal while on a 5-on-3 advantage.
Oleg Romanov did tie it shortly after that with Belarus still down a man, scoring short-handed on a slap shot from the top of the right circle at 7:47 of the first. Dmitry Dudik scored during a two-man advantage later in the period to give Belarus an improbable 2-1 lead.
Right about then, Belarus began to play as if it could win.
Michael Nylander tied it for Sweden later in the period, but Belarus regained the lead when Andrei Kovalev stole the puck at midice and beat Salo -- the hero of Sweden's 1994 goal medal shootout victory over Canada -- at 2:47 of the third period.
Sweden seemed to be peaking going into the game, beating Canada 5-2 and the Czech Republic 2-1, plus Germany 7-1. It is the second quarterfinal upset loss for Sweden in as many Olympics. Finland beat the defending champion Swedes 2-1 in 1998.