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United States (2-2) vs. Sweden (2-2)
Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks
The Americans thought they wouldn't have to play this game after starting the tournament 2-0. They will have to put any feelings of disappointment out of their minds if they're to advance to Sunday's semifinal against Russia.
Although they'll be without offensive sparkplug Chris Bourque, lost for the tournament with a knee injury sustained in a 5-3 loss to Belarus on Wednesday, the Americans have the superior firepower, at least on paper. The problem for the U.S. in consecutive losses to Belarus and the Czech Republic hasn't been generating scoring chances, it's been finishing them.
Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Dan Fritsche, who scored the lone goal in Thursday's 3-1 loss to the Czechs which placed the Americans in this game, will be counted on heavily, as will three-time tournament participant Patrick O'Sullivan, who has scored just once in four games and is minus-4.
Drew Stafford, who toils for the hometown University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux, has been the Americans' best player and leads the team with five points.
The Swedes earned the second seed in Pool B by virtue of their goal differential. They are led by Pittsburgh Penguin prospect left-winger Johannes Salmonsson, whose five goals put him tied for second among tournament scorers. Salmonsson and St. Louis Blues draft pick Carl Soderberg have eight of the Swedes' 14 goals.
A strong start by the Americans will go a long way to securing victory.
Provided Al Montoya can replicate his heroics of a year ago, when the Americans won their first gold medal at the World Junior Championship, the Americans should also have the edge in goaltending. Sweden will rely on Christopher Heino-Lindberg, who turned in a 4.14 goals against in three preliminary-round games.
The Swedes haven't won a medal at this tournament since 1996 and are often reminded of the junior program's failings by media at home.
-- Scott Burnside