BERNE – To win or not to win? Denmark answered that question in the affirmative on Friday, opening the Relegation Round with a 3-1 win over Germany at PostFinance Arena.
Peter Regin scored the winner with just over 10 minutes left in the third, and Mikkel Bødker and Nichlas Hardt also tallied for Denmark. Christoph Schubert replied for Germany.
"It was a very important win," said Danish captain Jesper Damgaard. "It gave us a good start for the Relegation Round. We played a good game, especially defensively."
Denmark secured three points with its first win of 2009. The Germans have now lost four straight games at this tournament. The only point they gained, which does not carry over to the Relegation Round, was for losing 3-2 in overtime to Switzerland. They have scored just four goals in total.
However, Germany cannot be relegated this year since it is the host country for the 2010 IIHF World Championship in Cologne and Mannheim.
"It's tough mentally--if you have one bad game you're out of the top division because Germany has the buffer for next year," said Damgaard. "I think we've played some good hockey in the tournament, but we've just allowed some stupid goals. We know we can play hockey and we showed it today."
Danish goalie Patrick Galbraith outdueled his German counterpart Dimitri Pätzold as Germany outshot Denmark 26-20.
"Our goaltending was the key," said Danish head coach Per Bäckman. "It hasn't been great in the tournament, but today Patrick shows what a fantastic goalie he is. He played an excellent game."
Early on, it was a game of mistakes for both sides.
A huge defensive gaffe midway through the first period enabled Denmark to open the scoring. Bødker and Morten Madsen got a 2-on-0 break behind the German defence, and, despite being hotly pursued by black-and-yellow jerseys, executed a nice give-and-go with Bødker capitalizing.
Germany tied it at 1-1 with 6:37 left in the period when Schubert skated into the right faceoff circle and wristed one past the out-of-position Galbraith's blocker.
In the second period, everybody still struggled to find their rhythm--apart from the lone German fan pounding a drum in the stands, that is.
Regin split the German defence with a fancy bit of stickhandling, but couldn't finish it off. Near the midway mark, Philipp Gogulla had a great chance when set up at the side of the Danish net, but Galbraith came across to foil him spectacularly, and then denied Jochen Hecht from the slot during a German power play.
Germany began to carry the play as the middle frame wore on, outshooting Denmark 11-6 on the period. But it couldn't convert the chances it generated, frequently firing wide.
Galbraith continued his fine play in the third period, stopping Yannic Seidenberg on a rush down the middle at point blank range. By now, it was a question of which team would blink first.
Regin finally forced the Germans to blink, virtually replicating his second-period rush but this time lifting a backhander past Patzold's glove at 9:52.
With 6:33 left, Denmark's Hardt added some insurance, corraling a rebound and tucking a backhand past Pätzold's left skate for a 3-1 edge. The Germans pulled their goalie with under a minute left but couldn't find the back of the net.
"They battled today, made the most of their opportunities and played a smart game out there," said German head coach Uwe Krupp of the Danes.
A downside for the victorious team? Denmark's power play, a traditional strength, continues to sputter, having converted just once in this tournament.
The last time these two nations faced each other in relegation play was a 3-2 victory for Denmark on May 10, 2005. Kaspar Degn's winner with 10 minutes left doomed Germany to Division I.
The Danes have never been relegated since entering the top division in 2003.
However, in February's Olympic qualification tournaments for the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Germany made the final 12 teams, while Denmark fell short due to a loss to Norway.
Germany next faces Austria on Sunday, while Denmark takes on Hungary that day.