COLOGNE Ė The key to winning a hockey game is having the last lead, not the first. Slovakia trailed by two goals for half the game, but scored the winner in the third period and won the game 4-2.
Marek Zagrapan scored the game-winning goal 4:07 into the third period. Goaltender Peter Budaj made 25 saves as Slovakia beat coach Glen Hanlon's former team, Belarus.
"It was a great win, this feels really good," said defenceman Vladimir Mihalik.
"To come back like that tells you something about the strength of this team," he added.
Belarus got the start it wanted when just four minutes into the game Andrei Stasís pass from the right sideboards found Dmitri Meleshko in the slot. Meleshko misfired, but the puck bounced to the front of the net where Sergei Demagin had an easy job to tap it in, and gave Belarus the lead in the game.
Five minutes later, Belarus made it a two-goal game with an almost non-chance. Alexei Kalyuzhny took a slapshot from the corner, with his feet almost on the goal line. The puck hit Slovakia netminder Peter Budaj under his arm, and continued its way to the back of the net.
"There was a lot of talking in the dressing room during the intermission, because something was missing from our game. We said that we had to be more physical, and that helped," Mihalik said.
Slovakia got their opportunity to re-enter the game early in the second period, on power play. Defenceman Richard Lintner took the puck deep into the Belarusian zone, and skated around the net, then sent the puck to the goal mouth. Vitali Koval made a save but Ivan Ciernik grabbed the rebound and lifted it over Kovalís leg pad with a backhander at 2:42.
The goal gave Slovakia a boost, and at the halfway point of the game, Milan Bartovic got the puck on the Belarus blue line. He accelerated and snuck between two Belarus defencemen before he sent a backhander through Kovalís five-hole to tie the game. Lintner collected his second assist of the night.
Kalyuzhny took a big role in the game, but unfortunately, not only for his goal. He took penalties in his first two shifts in the third period, and during the second power play, Slovakiaís Andrej Sekera sent the puck to the net from the blueline, and Marek Zagrapan got to the rebound first. He had no problem tapping it in, and to give Slovakia the lead for the first time in the game, 4:07 into the third period.
Belarus pushed Slovakia to their heels at the end of the period, but as is often the case, the opponent struck back. Milan Bartovic got a beautiful pass from Richard Panik who jumped up and dove to get the puck to Bartovic who had an easy task tapping the puck in with just 54 seconds remaining in the game.
"I donít like coaching against friends," says coach Glen Hanlon.
"There are always consequences with losing, but in the NHL, if you lose the fourth game of the season, you still have 78 games to go. Here, when you lose one, your life has been altered dramatically. Itís not fun coaching against friends, trust me," he adds.
But of course, winning is.