MALMÖ – Hanging on for a 2-1 win over Russia at an ecstatic Malmö Arena, Sweden advanced to Sunday’s gold medal game. Oskar Sundqvist scored the third-period winner.
Sweden, which has won six straight games, will face the winner of the Canada-Finland semi-final.
Captain Filip Forsberg also scored for Sweden. Damir Zhafyarov replied for Russia.
"I think we played pretty good," said Alexander Wennberg. "Russia’s a great team. At the end, it was tough. They had a lot of scoring chances against us. But we did a nice game and I think we deserved the win.
The host nation is gunning for its first World Junior gold medal since 2012 and its third all-time, the first coming in 1981. The Swedes, who took silver last year, are guaranteed a medal for the third year in a row.
Despite a disappointing outcome, the Russians, who took bronze last year, have a shot at their fourth straight medal.
"We were disappointed not to win, but that's life," said Zhafyarov. "These things happen in hockey, but we'll be ready to fight for the bronze medal tomorrow. It's always nice to win any medal."
Swedish goalie Oscar Dansk recorded 26 saves for the victory, while Andrei Vasilevski made 19 stops for the Russians.
"He was unbelievable," said Andreas Johnson of Dansk. "He made some pretty sick saves. He was great."
It was the ninth win for Sweden in its last 10 World Junior meetings with Russia. The previous four encounters were also decided by just one goal, Sweden winning the last three and Russia parlaying a 4-3 semi-final victory into gold in 2011.
Forsberg, with 12 points, could become the first Swede to lead the World Juniors in scoring since Henrik Sedin did it in 2000 (13). He was one point ahead of Canada's Anthony Mantha after the win over Russia.
The Russians came out storming, and after Dansk was forced to make a great save on a Nikita Zadorov one-timer from the right faceoff circle, they got the first man advantage in the opening minute, with Jesper Pettersson sent off for roughing. But Russia’s tournament-leading power play couldn’t capitalize, a trend that persisted.
"I think we just have to keep going and play better on the power play next game," said Zadorov.
On Sweden’s first shot on goal, just past the four-minute mark, Forsberg split the Russian defence and unleashed a high laser, but Vasilevski made a great glove save.
The aggressive Russians held the early territorial advantage, but first blood went to the "Juniorkronorna". Just after a Swedish 5-on-4 man advantage became a 5-on-3, the host team made it 1-0 with 49 seconds left in the first period.
As Elias Lindholm circled in the Russian zone, the partisan crowd of 11,725 hollered for him to beware defenceman Nikita Tryamkin, who had just left the penalty box and was coming up from behind. Lindholm kept his composure and sent a tricky pass to Forsberg, whose one-timer from the left faceoff circle screamed past Vasilevski’s blocker.
"He made a tremendous pass and I put it in," said Forsberg. "That was a great pass."
After killing off an early second-period minor to Gustav Olofsson, the Swedes picked up their physical game, laying some thunderous hits along the boards.
A promising-looking Russian 2-on-1 yielded a Swedish man advantage when Vadim Khlopotov ran over Dansk while charging to the net. But the Swedes couldn’t generate anything, and just after their power play expired, Vasilevski stopped an onrushing, unguarded Oskar Sundqvist from the high slot. Both sides tightened up their checking.
With six seconds left in the second period, the Russians got another power play when Lindholm reached out one-handed with his stick in the offensive zone and clipped the visor area of Russian defenceman Valeri Vasiliev, who went down in a heap. Despite the displeasure of the crowd and Swedish coach Rikard Grönborg, who suggested Vasiliev had dived, Lindholm got a four-minute high-sticking minor.
The Swedes survived their big penalty kill to start the third, and then Sundqvist took a magnificent stretch pass from Erik Karlsson at the Russian blue line, breaking away to deke Vasilevski and lift a backhander home for a 2-0 lead at 4:55. (Even the Erik Karlsson who plays for the Ottawa Senators would have been impressed.)
The Russians responded less than two minutes later, with Zhafyarov getting a bad-angle shot from the goal line past a surprised Dansk to make it 2-1. They started coming on hard.
Russia's top unit was logging monster minutes, and captain Anton Slepyshev nearly tied it up with nine minutes left when he rang one off the post on Dansk's stick side.
Dansk absolutely stoned Bogdan Yakimov on the doorstep with just over three minutes remaining.
The Russians pulled Vasilevski with 1:10 remaining. Their 6-on-5 became a 6-on-4 when Jesper Pettersson was caught slashing a Russian stick in the corner to Dansk's right. The Russians buzzed the Swedish net but couldn't break through.
"It was a tough game, but today we were the better team," said Sweden's Christian Djoos. "It was a great win."
Hostilities boiled over at the final whistle as punches were thrown and Pettersson bloodied Andrei Mironov's nose.
"I saw one of my teammates get hit from behind," said Pettersson. "I gotta skate there and stand up for my guys."
Swedish forward Anton Karlsson returned to the lineup after missing the last two games with a shoulder injury.
Andreas Johnson, Alexander Wennberg, and Filip Forsberg were named Sweden's best players of the tournament. For Russia, it was Andrei Vasilevski, Anton Slepyshev, and Mikhail Grigorenko.
A large group of Canadian fans, seated at center ice in the neutral zone, mostly supported Sweden, waving blue-and-yellow flags.
The Swedes now have an historic opportunity to win World Junior gold on home ice for the first time ever, having fallen short in their previous five attempts (1979, 1984, 1993, 2000, 2007).
Last May, led by the Sedin twins, the senior Swedish national team broke the infamous “home ice curse” dating back to the 1986 IIHF World Championship in Moscow by winning the title in Stockholm.