BRATISLAVA – Slovakia is now in a bit of a pickle. The hosts' chances of advancing to the playoff stage got a little worse after their 3-2 loss to the Czech Republic who haven't lost a point in the tournament.
Patrik Elias scored one and added two assists, linemate Martin Havlat had a two-point game for the Czechs. Jaroslav Halak made 34 saves in Slovakia's goal.
Czech Republic - Slovakia 3-2 (1-0, 0-1, 2-1) Game Sheet Photos
The Czech Republic (and Germany, as well) secured a quarter-final berth while Slovakia now has its back against the wall. It has to win its games against Finland and Denmark, and Finland shouldn't take points in its last game against Russia.
"That's all that matters now: we'll have to win those two games. Let's see what happens," said defenceman Milan Jurcina.
It was the twelfth time that Slovakia and the Czech Republic met in a World Championship game. Of the past 11 games, Slovakia had won two, the Czechs eight, and one had ended in tie. The record gets only worse for Slovakia, if you consider the three Olympic games between the countries: all three have ended in a Czech win.
But that was history. Tonight was the first time they played a World Championship game in Slovakia. That alone would have been enough to motivate the Slovaks, but they were also in dire need of three points, having entered the Qualification Round with zero.
The Czech Republic got another power play opportunity, and while the Slovakian penalty killers worked hard and managed to keep the Czechs on the outside for most of the two minutes, the Czechs found a way to beat Halak for the first time. Jan Marek played the puck Patrik Elias on the blueline. Elias took a slap shot, and just before it had made its way to the net, Marek Zidlicky deflected the puck past Halak at 17:48.
"We just switched positions. I tried to be at the front of the net, and I just touched the puck. I’m so happy it went in," Zidlicky said.
The Slovaks came back from the dressing room poised to fight their way back into the game.
And then, 2:56 into the second period: KA-BOOM!!! The Orange Arena was shaken to its foundations as the capacity Slovak crowd screamed their joy.
Jozef Stümpel won a faceoff in the Czech zone. The puck was played to defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky whose slapshot was blocked, but the puck bounced to Ladislav Nagy who fired a wrist shot that found its way to the back of the net through a lot of traffic. The goal was Nagy’s team-leading third in the tournament.
The teams went back and forth in the second period, both teams creating several excellent scoring chances, in a game that was one of the best in the tournament.
In the third, it was the Czechs who started the strongest. They won the faceoff in the Slovak zone, Elias dropped it back to Martin Havlat who just sent it to the front of the net, and it caught Halak by surprise. The puck hit his glove and bounced into the net at 1:06.
The same line scored in their next shift again. This time Havlat took a wrist shot from the blueline. Halak made a save but the rebound ended up in Elias's blade and he jammed it in to give the Czechs a two-goal lead with 15:32 remaining in the period. The point was Elias’s third of the game.
"I think we've played pretty well in the four games we’ve played so far. [Elias and Michalek] are both great players and they’re both different. That’s very important for our line. They both are having great tournaments so far. The whole team is playing very well. That’s the most important thing – battling hard to the last second," said Havlat.
Slovakia was on the ropes – but not out. With 2:32 remaining in the third period. Tomas Surovy made it a one-goal game again when he grabbed a loose puck in front of Pavelec's net, and slammed it in, to make it 3-2.
Zidlicky didn't have trouble feeling sympathetic to the Slovaks. A little.
"It’s very tough (for them). The whole building is sold out, and it’s tough on guys, especially when they have to win, and they lost 3-2," he said.
The Czechs will play against Russia on Sunday, while the Slovaks have to regroup overnight, so that they'll be ready for their game against Finland. A game they must win to keep alive even a theoretical chance to make the playoff stage.
"We have a lot of experience and strong characters in the dressing room. We started out on a mission, and that's not over. We won't stop until the finish line. We owe it to our fans," said coach Glen Hanlon.