World Championship semifinals: Playing for bronze

Mikael Backlund ran into some penalty trouble today. - Bruce Bennett

Both Sweden and the Czech Republic lost their semifinal games, so Mikael Backlund and Jiri Hudler will be fighting it out for bronze.

First Sven Baertschi got injured, and the Swiss just missed the playoff round. Then Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau's teams bowed out in the quarterfinals. That left just two Flames to compete for a guaranteed medal; now, out of five, only one will be getting some hardware.

Team Sweden and Mikael Backlund

Bad news: After taking an early lead, the Swedes fell 3-1 to the Russians and the defending champions are instead playing for bronze.

Good news: Once again, Backlund was one of Sweden's top players.

It only took 19 seconds for Sweden to open the game's scoring. Backlund initiated the first goal, chipping the puck into the neutral zone from his own end. Joakim Lindstrom received the pass and sprung Oscar Moller for a breakaway, and just like that, the Swedes had the lead, with Backlund getting the second assist.

Those were the only Swedes to get any points.

Backlund played 21:14, yet again Sweden's top forward for ice time, and one of just three Swedes to exceed 20 minutes (the other two being the top defence pairing, Johan Fransson and Mattias Ekholm, who played about two and four more minutes than Backlund, respectively). He was not recorded as taking any shots on net, and was on the ice for two goals against.

Backlund was on the ice for most of the game's final minutes. He played 8:16 in the third period, the most out of all Swedish players, and was a constant force as the Swedes were desperately trying to tie up the game.

He also picked up 25 penalty minutes.

Frustration boiled over for Backlund and, in what was a childish and stupid but I guess also truculent move, he sent Russia's Sergei Plotnikov down to the ice after the whistle (Plotnikov stayed down, but had also just blocked a shot, which is more likely to be the cause of any potential injury).

There were only 11 seconds left in the game at this point, and it was clearly over.

The Russian players went after Backlund who basically wasn't having any of it. He received a five minute major for charging (gotta call something) and 20 minutes' worth of a game misconduct for his trouble.

Sweden still has a bronze medal to play for, and it's unclear if Backlund will be in the lineup. Thus far, his tournament consists of four goals and seven points over nine games. He averaged about 18 minutes a game, but was playing more and more later in the tournament as one of Sweden's leaders.

As for his ending to this game? It wasn't the right thing to do at all, and he may suffer non-ideal consequences for it, but it's not all bad. He was pissed off with losing. That's all it comes down to. For a player who has professed loyalty time and time again to the team that drafted him, despite said team being, well, bad, and often not giving him a fair shake until halfway through this past season, honestly, this is okay.

Mikael Backlund wants to be a Flame but he also wants to win. And he's a good enough player to be able to contribute to making this happen.

Backlund in the playoffs will be something to look forward to, one day. And hopefully he's gotten the angst about losing out of his system here, and won't have it come up in the NHL.

Team Czech Republic and Jiri Hudler

Bad news: The Czechs were unable to handle Pekka Rinne and were shutout 3-0 by the Finns.

Good news: They still have a chance at a medal.

Jiri Hudler has, ultimately, had an unremarkable tournament. He hasn't been used as much as Backlund and Gaudreau, and he isn't as key to the Flames' future as Monahan and Baertschi (or Backlund and Gaudreau, for that matter). It's great to have your NHL club represented in international events, but he hasn't done anything particularly notable this time around.

Hudler played 12:52, seventh in ice time for all Czech forwards. He had no shots on net. He was not on the ice for any goals against, one of which was an empty net goal, indicating the Czechs were not using him much in a bid to tie up the game.

Thus far, Hudler has had one goal and four points over eight games; not an exceptional, nor bad stat line, especially for a bottom six player, and he's still on a team contending for a medal.

The bronze medal game is at 7:30 a.m. MT tomorrow on TSN2. Hudler will be playing. Hopefully Backlund will be as well.

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