If there’s one thing this Olympics has shown, it’s that the middle of the pack teams are showing off their improvements from four years ago. And Team Japan’s 2-1 overtime victory is a perfect example of that.
Never before had Team Japan defeated a European nation (they only picked up their first win in Olympic history a few days before, when they beat Korea 4-1).
It was Japan who appeared to strike first, scoring a goal while Swedish netminder Sara Grahn was screened in front. Though the call on the ice was a goal, the refs ultimately called it back due to goaltender’s interference (writer’s note: IT REALLY SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN CALLED BACK).
Sweden struggled with penalty trouble in the first, taking three in the opening period alone, including a penalty for an illegal hit by Olivia Carlsson that ultimately set up Japan’s first goal.
Japan struck early in the second period in the waning seconds of the Carlsson penalty. As the last seconds of the penalty ticked away, the puck slid through the crease and off the skate of Shiori Koike, redirecting it to a wide open Haruna Yoneyama. Yoneyama whiffed on the shot but the puck slid right back to Koike at the top of the crease, who managed to slide it past Grahn for a 1-0 lead.
A few minutes later, it was Sweden who tied the game up, ironically enough, while they were on another penalty kill. Japan had several good looks in their offensive zone before the puck got trapped on the side boards. Pressure from Lisa Johansson and Emilia Ramboldt forced a turnover, and Johansson took off, leaving everyone in the dust and scoring glove-side on Nana Fujimoto.
But neither team could find the back of the net again, so to overtime we went.
The hero of the game was ultimately Ayaka Toko, who got credit for the game-winning blast that squeaked past Sara Grahn’s (she probably wants it back, too). But Chiho Osawa orchestrated the play, skating end to end and dancing around several Swedish players and twisting their defense inside out before sliding the pass to Toko for the goal.
Japan will face Switzerland in the fifth place game (win or lose, it will be their highest Olympic finish in team history) and Sweden will face Korea in the seventh place game.