MANNHEIM – In an intense, penalty-laden Group C finale, the Czechs beat Sweden 2-1 on Thursday. Based on goal differential, Sweden still got top spot in the group.
The result created a three-way tie in points (6) between Sweden, the Czech Republic, and Norway. Sweden, though, had the best goal differential in head-to-head games, while the Czechs were second.
Petr Hubacek scored the winner on a nice rush halfway through the game.
"Unfortunately, we can't score goals right now," said Swedish coach Bengt-Åke Gustafsson. "But it was an exciting game."
"It was a fully crowded building, and it was great excitement with a lot of Czech fans in the stands," said Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman. "It was very warm in the building. You want to play these kinds of games all the time."
Next up, Sweden faces Latvia on Friday, while Canada will take on Norway in the early Qualification Round game that day in Mannheim. The Czechs will play Switzerland in Saturday's late game.
Czech starter Tomas Vokoun outduelled Swedish goalie Jonas Gustavsson for the win, as the Czechs outshot Sweden 37-32.
"It was a game about goalies," said Czech coach Vladimir Ruzicka. "They were both great."
Historically, Tre Kronor is the most consistent of all national hockey teams, a fixture in the modern Qualification Round. It has never finished lower than seventh (2000) in recent history.
The first period – never that, the first minute – was as eventful as a Shakespeare play, even though only one goal was scored. Bodies, mostly Czech, were littered over the ice in front of the sold-out SAP Arena crowd of 12,500. Still, the Czechs applied a furious tempo and outshot their opponents 18-6.
On the first play of the game, Jaromir Jagr was nabbed for hooking Victor Hedman behind the Swedish net. Seconds later, Sweden's Jimmie Ericsson was so shaken up inside the blueline after colliding with a teammate that he had to be helped off the ice. Then Czech captain Tomas Rolinek burned Erik Karlsson on a partial breakaway, putting the puck inside Gustavsson's left post to open the scoring shorthanded at 0:54. Welcome to the jungle!
Near the six-minute mark, the Czechs came close to doubling their lead on an odd-man rush. Roman Cervenka's pass across to Jagr was blocked by Jonathan Ericsson, but Gustavsson was alert to block the Jakub Klepis follow-up shot from the slot.
Mid-period, the Swedes ran into penalty woes. Michael Nylander was banished for two minutes for cross-checking Jagr into the boards in the Swedish zone, and 27 seconds later, Andreas Enqvist was caught hooking Miroslav Blatak.
The Swedes killed off the two-man advantage, the key moment coming when Gustavsson stoned Cervenka from the slot with a pad save. Rickard Wallin sprang Nylander on a breakaway after he came out of the penalty box, but Vokoun outwaited him.
The physical shenanigans continued. Jonas Andersson went off for high-sticking at the Czech blueline after some rather incidental-looking contact caused Blatak to crumple to the ice. Nylander got away with another hit from behind, this time on Petr Vampola. Petr Hubacek tried to hit Christian Backman on the sideboards and got the worst of it, crumpling to the ice.
"We didn't play the first the way we wanted," said Hedman. "But after that, it was pretty even."
In the second period, it took 4:03 for Sweden to find the equalizer. Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson took a drop pass from Wallin and squeezed a hard wrister from the left faceoff circle under Vokoun's arm.
But the Czechs weren't discouraged. At 10:42, they jumped back into the lead when Jiri Novotny came out of the penalty box and raced off on a 2-on-1 with Petr Hubacek, which he converted perfectly, beating Gustavsson to the high blocker side. The sequence occurred moments after Vokoun had made a clutch blocker save at the other end.
Both goalies continued to shine as the middle frame wore down. Vokoun was particularly impressive on a sliding save that denied Marcus Nilson on the doorstep.
The teams sparred intensely through the third period, with the Czechs aiming to pump up their lead. However, they failed despite two power plays, as did Sweden in its bid to equalize and prevail.
Still, the Czechs were happy with the three-point win. "We knew that if we lost, we'd have zero points in the Qualification Round," Ruzicka pointed out.
Looking ahead to Friday, Hedman said: "Latvia has a great goalie in Edgars Masalskis, and some other good players. It'll be a tough game. Coming into the second round, we've got to prove to ourselves that we can win the hard games."
Sweden is questing for its first World Championship gold since 2006, while the Czechs haven't won since 2005.