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Goaltending is key at World Juniors

One goalie looked like he could have stopped an avalanche of marbles — and not let one sneak by.

Another ‘tender was just trying not to lose his marbles.

Russia’s Andrei Vasilevski made 40 saves — including a half-dozen show-stoppers — to record the goose-egg in a 3-0 win over the Swiss on Boxing Day, the opening day of action at the world junior hockey championship.

Swedish goaltender Johan Gustafsson didn’t enjoy the same kind of success, surrendering four goals on 13 shots.

"The first two shots make two goals," said Gustafsson, who didn’t play poorly. "It’s tough, because you don’t feel like you’re in the game.

"But we got a ‘W’, and that’s what counts." While Vasilevski was continuously peppered by an impressive Swiss squad that deserved a better fate, Gustafsson was forced to endure lengthy stretches with no action during a 9-4 win.

The decidedly pro-Latvian crowd gave Gustafsson the gears when he stopped a dump-in, but the 6-foot-2, 207-pounder didn’t let it get to him.

"That’s not something I think about when I play the game," Gustafsson said. "I know what I can do. I know I’m capable of playing better than I played in the first game.

"Hopefully, I will show that when I get the chance to play again."

The Swedes will take on Switzerland Wednesday (3:30 p.m.), and they’ll likely need a win to ensure the New Year’s Eve tilt against Russia is for first place.

Gustafsson, if he plays, is guaranteed to see more rubber against the Swiss — just ask Vasilevski.

And that’s fine with the Swedish goaltender. He actually prefers it that way.

"Every goalie likes getting shots once in awhile — not 12 or 13," Gustafsson said. "You want to feel the puck.

"Those games are the toughest — where you don’t have so much to do."

The pesky Latvians stuck around for 30 minutes against the Swedes, but the outcome was never in serious doubt.

"It was a tough game, but it’s not something I lose confidence over," Gustafsson said. "Maybe on one goal, I can do something better.

"We scored a lot of goals. I think it was a good offensive game, so we can’t be unhappy with that."

Sniper Max Friberg was busy filling the net — four times — at the other end of the rink.

But the Anaheim Ducks prospect said the team has complete confidence in Gustafsson.

"Of course," Friberg said. "I don’t think he played bad. Maybe it looks bad to let in four goals on 13 shots, but if you see the whole picture, you’ll see he didn’t have a bad game."

Holding the opposition to 13 shots is great, Friberg said. But giving up quality scoring chances was concerning.

"We can help him much more than we did," Friberg said. "When they don’t have many chances, but the chances are good that they are getting, so it’s tough for him."

Russia takes on Slovakia in Wednesday’s late game (8 p.m., Saddledome).

Scott Fisher

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