Bittersweet victory

Mikhail Stefanovich scores winner, Belarus beats Denmark 2-1

17-05-10
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Lanxess Arena Cologne  Germany
Never give an inch: Morten Madsen battles with Vladimir Denisov at the 2010 IIHF World Championship. Photo: Jukka Rautio / HHOF-IIHF Images

COLOGNE – Denmark scored the first goal of the game just 38 seconds into it, but Belarus nailed the winner with two minutes remaining. However, Denmark will play another game on Thursday, Belarus leaves the tournament with a 2-1 win over Denmark.

"We didn't reach the playoffs and we're very upset. This was one of the most useless wins of my life, I don't know what to say," said Belarus goaltender Vitali Koval, who made 27 saves en route to the win.

Belarus knew last night that they would miss the quarterfinals, even if they did beat Germany in overtime. The Danes knew after Finland’s win over Slovakia that they were absolutely, positively through to the quarters, for the first time in Denmark’s hockey history.

Maybe that gave Denmark an additional spark to the start of the game. Maybe that’s why Belarus wasn’t ready to play from the get go. Regardless of the reason, Denmark scored their first goal just 38 seconds into the game when Morten Madsen delivered the puck to Lars Eller who ripped a wrist shot that beat Vitali Koval for the first time.

While the game wasn’t entirely meaningless - Denmark could still finish second and avoid playing their quarterfinal in Mannheim - it wasn’t the most important game, either. A modest attendance, 3,257, added to the general feeling.

"It wasn't a great hockey game. Neither by us, nor them because we didn't really have anything to play for. We tried, but maybe we had a mental block because we had just seen Finland beat Slovakia, and clinch our quarterfinal spot," said Denmark goaltender Patrick Galbraith who made 28 saves.

But everything changed in the end.

Belarus coach Zankovets played his best players as hard as always. Ruslan Salei played almost 18 minutes in the first two periods, and Mikhail Grabovski a few seconds under 13 minutes.

Denmark's Jesper Damgaard had recovered from the minor injury he suffered in the game against Russia, but Jesper Duus is still out of action due to a rib injury, and the 42-year-old defenceman may not be able to return to action during the World Championship.

"My heart really goes out for him, Jesper's been a big hockey personality in Denmark for a long time, and now he can't play," coach Per Bäckman says.

The teams did play hard and they provided their fans several hockey goodies in the form of individual shows of talent. The way Alexei Ugarov set up Belarus’s first goal was one of them, as the 25-year-old foreward sidestepped a Denmark defencemen, went around him, and sent the puck the net. It hit the post, and landed on the crease where Andrei Stas had an easy task to tap it in, and tie the game at 16:31 into the second period.

Denmark ran into some penalty trouble, taking three penalties in the middle frame. However, Belarus’s goal came when both teams were playing at full strength.

In the third period, Belarus got a golden opportunity to win the game with five minutes remaining as Jesper Damgaard was sent to the penalty box for holding, but Denmark managed to kill off the penalty.

With 2:20 remaining, Belarus got another powerplay.

With 2:11 remaining, they scored the game winning goal. Mikhail Stefanovich took a pass from behind the net and onetimed the puck upstairs.

But Denmark got one more chance. With two Belarus penalties on the board, Denmark pulled Galbraith to create a 6-on-3 powerplay with 13 seconds remaining.

Vitali Koval made his last save of the tournament to the sound of the buzzer, marking Belarus's 2-1 win.

"We didn't manage to pull an upset here, while many other teams did. We had a good opportunity to get to the quarterfinals but we messed up," he said, and then walked to the dressing room.

RISTO PAKARINEN

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