COLOGNE – Slovakia only needed a point to guarantee a spot in the qualification round. They took three with a convincing 5-1 win over Kazakhstan.
Ivan Ciernik, playing in his Kölner Haie home arena, scored two and Peter Budaj made 34 saves for Slovakia.
"I've played four years here and have a lot of friends here and lot of them we here tonight. It was good to get goals for them," Ciernik said.
Kazakhstan had a thin sliver of hope to get to the qualification round but it needed to win Slovakia by three goals. And to do that, the players would have had to stick to the game plan, avoid mistakes, stay out of the box, and keep Slovakia off the board as long as possible.
The plan worked almost the entire first period. Not even Dmitri Dudarev’s two-minute roughing penalty 3:30 into the game helped the Slovaks.
But with three and a half minutes remaining in the first period, a mistake was made. Andre Sekera sent a wrist shot from the blueline, and Marek Zagrapan got enough space by the side of the net to masterfully deflect the puck from his backhand past Kazakhstan goaltender Vitali Yeremeyev.
"We took too many penalties in the game," said Kazakhstan defenceman Maxim Semenov.
In the second period, Slovakia took over the game completely, keeping the puck deep in the Kazakhstan’s zone, and cycling the puck, looking for the perfect chance.
One chance came at 5:04 into the period when a Kazakhstan defenceman failed to clear the puck in the corner, Marek Statos grabbed it and sent a saucer from behind the net, straight to the tape of Ivan Ciernik’s stick. Ciernik had an easy task to tap it in from the doorstep.
Ciernik had parked in front of the net some eight minutes later and when Yeremeyev made a great pad save on Richard Lintner’s spinorama slapshot, he banged in his second of the night and the third of the tournament.
Kazakhstan made it a two-goal game 4:03 into the third period. Peter Budaj left a rebound, and when Slovak defence couldn’t clear it, Dudarev sent it to the back of the net with a backhander. Just 35 seconds later, Kazakhstan players celebrated another goal but it was disallowed because the puck was kicked in.
"Who knows what would have happened if we had got that goal," said Semenov.
Tomas Tatar, 19, sealed the final score with 5:42 remaining. He was hooked down on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot, which he capitalized on. Yeremeyev dropped to the ice and Tatar lifted the puck over his pads to make it 4-1 for Slovakia.
"I am one-for-one," he said, laughing. "I just wanted to score. I am happy."
Just as the final two minutes were announced, Andrej Podkonicky beat Yeremeyev with a wraparound shot, and sealed the final score, 5-1.
Slovakia's first qualification round game is on Friday against Denmark. Finland - Belarus will also be played on Friday while Russia - Germany play on Saturday.
"All the remaining teams are dangerous and this was good for us. We've won our last two games and we are feeling pretty confident," Ciernik said.
Kazakhstan's first relegation round game is against the U.S. in Cologne.