MANNHEIM – A quick goal from Philip Gogulla midway through the second period and sensational goaltending from Dennis Endras was all Germany needed to beat Switzerland 1-0 to advance to the semi-finals for the first time since the current IIHF World Championship playoff format was introduced in 1992. The Germans now play Russia in Cologne at 18:00 on Saturday night for a place in the gold-medal game.
"Russia is a huge favourite, I think," said Michael Wolf. "With that lineup they have, it's almost like the Olympic lineup. It's tough to play against them, but we'll try to play as a group again, with good goaltending, and you never know."
The game was played before a raucous, sold-out SAP Arena crowd of 12,500 that saw Endras block all 41 shots he faced, some in sensational fashion. The Czechs and Swedes play the other semi-finals on Saturday at 14:00.
"I think it was the biggest win of my career," said Endras. "For Germany to make the semi-final is huge for us as a team, for the whole staff. The guys worked hard for 60 minutes and it was such a great feeling tonight."
The only dark side of the night occurred after the final horn when a full-scale brawl almost erupted, including Swiss player Timo Helbling and German assistant coach Ernst Höfner, who both got match penalties.
The win guarantees at least a fourth place finish for the Germans. They last finished as high at the 1976 Olympics when they won a bronze medal in Innsbruck and at the 1953 World Championships when they also won silver.
Switzerland now finishes in fifth place, its best showing since a fourth in 1998 when they hosted the World Championship in Zurich and Basle.
Marcel Jenni was praiseworthy in defeat. "It's one of the worst losses I've ever had in my career. We controlled the play in the first period, but we couldn't find the flow we needed to beat them. The Germans deserved the win. They played well."
The first period saw both teams have only one great opportunity each to score, but after 20 minutes there was nary a goal to be found. In the early going it was Switzerland’s Paolo Duca who hit the post, and then toward the end of the period Germany had a colossal opportunity to break the game open.
Martin Plüss was given a five-minute major and game misconduct for spearing at 15:28. The vicious little play was actually a backswing with the tip of his stick into the groin of Christian Ehrhoff, but on the ensuing power play the Germans were able to generate few decent shots much less score a goal. They had one other fruitless power play in the period. Coming into the game they were 16th in the tournament with just one goal in 21 chances with the extra man.
Germany showed its great weakness – lack of offence – but the Swiss didn’t generate many chances either in a dull period enlivened only by the incredible fan support for the home side.
The second period, however, was a vastly different story. It began with more stifling defence, but then Germany started to take over and dominate. The Swiss simply couldn’t generate scoring chances off the rush, and the Germans skated with greater inspiration. They were rewarded halfway through the period with the game’s first goal.
Alexander Sulzer took a weak shot along the left-wing boards, but it was high and caught goalie Martin Gerber by surprise. He had to jump to make the chest save, but the puck dropped onto the stick of Philip Gogulla and he quickly rapped it into the open side for a 1-0 lead at 10:46.
The third period was predictable in that the Germans tried to protect the lead and the Swiss mounted their fiercest attack. The result was several terrific scoring chances, but Endras was sensational in the German net, stopping everything that came his way.
Of course, the more the Swiss attacked, the more they were vulnerable to odd-man rushes the other way, and Germany also had a few quality chances to score that all-important second goal.
The brawl erupted after a crazy series of events. As the clock wound down to zero, German players leaped off the bench to celebrate the win, but the referees pointed out that there was still one second left on the clock. Order was restored, the puck dropped, and the game over, but pushing and shoving occurred as all players left their benches. Order was restored but gave an otherwise sensational night a bit of a black eye.
"We have a great team spirit," said Alexander Sulzer of the winning team. "We talked before the game against the U.S. started, and we sat together. We said we were just going to play the game and try to keep it easy, do the little things. Enjoy the moment, go from shift to shift, period to period, game to game."
And now they have at least one more game to play, the biggest of their lives.