- Associated Press - Saturday, February 8, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - Eight years after upsetting the United States to win the women’s hockey silver medal in Turin, Sweden opens its Sochi Games tournament Sunday against Japan.

The Swedes are the only team other than Canada or the U.S. to have reached an Olympic gold medal game, and they have outscored Japan 65-10 in nine previous matchups. But they will have to play their way out of Group B - a new bottom-tier that is supposed to cut down on early-round blowouts after the sport was warned in Vancouver to improve.

Japan has not appeared in the women’s hockey tournament since the sport made its Olympic debut in Nagano in 1998.

In other action on Sunday, Russia will face Germany. The Russians have never medaled at the Olympics, but they earned a bronze at the 2013 world championships and the partisan home crowd could help boost them into the medal round in Sochi.

But they are without their goalie Nadezha Alexandrova, who made 14 saves in a 4-0 victory over Germany in the world championships. She withdrew from the team on the eve of the Olympics because she is pregnant.

The top two teams in Group B will advance to the quarterfinals, and the bottom two have no chance to medal.

The women’s hockey tournament began on Saturday with the United States beating Finland 3-1 and Canada beating Switzerland 5-0. The top two teams in the top-tier Group A will advance directly to the semifinals, and the bottom two will play in the quarterfinals.

“We just don’t want to come last in the group,” Germany’s Susanne Fellner said. “Our goal is first or second. We really want to get to the quarterfinal.”

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