TILBURG – The Netherlands grabbed a morale-boosting win against Lithuania, 4-1. Ukraine dominated Serbia, 15-2, whereas Austria handed Japan its first defeat beating them 3-1.
Lithuania - Netherlands 1-4 (1-1,0-2,0-1)
The evening game in Group A in Tilburg was a chippy affair between host Netherlands and Lithuania. Both teams pushed the border of what was allowed by the refs, and often crossed it. In total, the referees called 99 penalty minutes.
The Dutch probably regretted it less since they posted an important 4-1 victory, which puts them in pole position for a fourth-place finish.
Games between the teams have been chippy and close in the last decade. Three of the last four meetings ended in a draw. Today's game was just as close.
Much against the will of the packed arena, Lithuania drew first blood. Darius Pliskauskas' shot during a 4-on-3 situation gave them the lead.
The Dutch equalizer came 79 seconds before the end of the first period when Peter van Biezen converted one of the host's two-man advantages.
It was a rare even-strength situation when the hosts took the lead on a Lars van Sloun's deflection at 27:34. Less than three minutes later, captain Bob Teunissen poked in a loose puck on another power play to give the Netherlands a comfortable 3-1 lead.
In the third period, Lithuania wasted a five-minute power play. The Dutch defence withstood the Lithuanian storm and a wave went through the arena as the minutes counted down on the clock.
Lithuania took their goalie out with just over two minutes left, but it backfired as Diederick Hagemeijer powered through two Lithuanians to score the empty netter.
"Our players underestimated the Netherlands," coach Sidaravicius said. "My team thought they could easily win 3-2, 4-2 and didn't execute well on the chances we got."
Dutch coach Tom Hartogs was relieved to get rid of the zero behind his team's point total. "I think we deserved this win. We killed a lot of penalties and dominated in a lot of areas of the game tonight."
Before the game a minute of silence in honour of former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch was held.
Japan - Austria 1-3 (0-2, 1-0, 0-1)
Thomas Koch looked to be the person to deliver Japan a K.O. in the first period. The Red Bull Salzburg forward stuck a dagger into the Asian hearts with a pair of power play goals.
After exactly five minutes, Koch released a low slap shot that beat Yutaka Fukufuji. The goal sent the Austrian fans, who claimed the stands behind the Japanese net, jumping up and down.
At 8:28, Matthias Trattnig picked up the puck behind his own net and gave a cross-ice pass to the far wing. Oliver Setzinger picked up the puck and went into the offensive zone and found Koch wide open at the far post.
"I told my players to be patient in the beginning," said Austria coach Bill Gilligan. "They've got tremendous speed and play a good transition game. The plan worked well for us in the first period."
Japan survived the rest of the first period and came out with more composure in the middle stanza.
Japan's persistence was rewarded when Tetsuya Saito picked up the puck off his own faceoff and backhanded it underneath Reinhard Divis to cut the deficit to one. Despite being outshot 23-13, Japan was suddenly back in the gold medal race.
Christoph Harand thought he had scored the all important third Austrian goal midway through the final period, but he was stone-walled by a last-second pad save by Fukufuji.
"Our goalie came up with some great saves this game," Japan coach Mark Mahon said about Japan's player of the game. "It could easily have been 4-1, 5-1, but he kept us in the game."
For a long time, Japan was unable to threaten Divis' net but they got a golden opportunity when Gregor Hager was sent to the box six minutes before the end. After several frantic moments in front of the net, Thomas Raffl chased a cleared puck and outpaced two Japanese players before sending a wrister over the goalie's stick side to seal the deal for the Austrians.
Mahon pulled his goalie with a little over two minutes left, but it was to no avail. Roland Kaspitz hit the post of the empty net while Divis was hardly tested with the man advantage.
Mahon: "Austria was very strong on the power play and unfortunately we struggled in that area and were not good enough with the extra man. We now aim for a good result against the Ukraine and then hope that they will beat Austria."
On Saturday, Austria will try to stay unbeaten with a game against the Netherlands. Japan needs a win against Ukraine to have an outside chance for the gold medal.
Roland Kaspitz ensured the victory for Austria scoring the all important 3-1 with four minutes left to play against Japan. Photo: Ronald Goudberg
Ukraine - Serbia 15-2 (1-1, 6-0, 8-1)
It took Serbia 127 minutes of scoreless play before they had reason to cheer. Marko Sretovic's wrist shot from just inside the blueline hit Ukraine goaltender Vadim Seliverstov on the helmet. The puck flew into the air and trickled awkwardly across the goalline.
The Serbian bench when the goal was scored. Not only because it was their first of the event, but also because they surprisingly took the lead against the gold-medal candidates.
"It was a lucky goal, " Sretovic said. "I just put the puck on net in to get some time for a line change. But the goal put a big smile on my face I have to admit."
Underestimation of Serbia was the biggest problem for Ukraine in the opening period. It took thirteen minutes before an Andri Sriubko blast deflected into the Serbian net to tie the game. But that was all that Ukraine managed in the opening 20 minutes.
But in the forty minutes that followed, Ukraine steamrolled the Serbian team.
Oleg Materukhin and Vadym Shakhraychuk each scored twice in a six-goal second period and Ukraine added another eight in the third period to up their total goal scored to 36 in three games. With eight seconds left, Dmytro Tsyrul missed the chance make it 37 when he saw his penalty shot end up on the wrong side of the crossbar.
Despite being heavily outscored, Serbia's afternoon was brightened with another goal by Nemanja Jankovic at 52:54.
"We need to sort out our defence," Zakharov said as he looked ahead for the vital games against Japan and Austria. "We got how many goals against? Nine? Too much. Too many."
The Serbian bench finally had something to cheer about this tournament. Photo: Ronald Goudberg