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Vanek shoots, Vanek scores!

Austria beats Slovakia 2-1 after a penalty shootout

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Bernhard Starkbaum made 45 saves, including three in the shootout, for Austria. Photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images

HELSINKI – Thomas Vanek did what he does best: score goals. Rastislav Stana in Slovakia’s goal was defenceless when the Austrian sniper snapped the puck top-shelf, and led his team to a 2-1 shootout win over Slovakia.

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Gerhard Unterluggauer scored Austria’s goal in regulation time, Tomas Surovy got one for Slovakia.

"For us, it was a huge two points. We battled really hard. We gave everything we had. The Slovaks were the favourites in this game. We tried to compete with them and do our best. That’s what we did. We kept the game tight, and we won it in the shootout," said Austria's Thomas Koch.

Austria’s goaltender Starkbaum was already the hardest working goalie in the tournament, and he didn’t get a day off on Friday, either, and faced a barrage of Slovak shots. Before the game he was the only goalie with saves in the triple digits (116), and he added another 42 to his total today.

"Well, we had 43 shots. It was a matter of a couple of inches every time. The puck was rolling on the goal line a few times. We outchanced them, but we didn’t have much luck. Their goalie played great," said Slovakia's Milan Jurcina.

Slovakia’s Rastislav Stana was no slacker, either, making 30 saves.

Austria’s win adds another two points between them and Latvia, currently the last-place team in the group. Austria is now sixth in the group, with Germany and Latvia behind them, but both have a game in hand.

The game picked up pace as it went along, but it was Slovakia who opened scoring halfway through the first period. They had pressed Austria on their heels for a few minutes, and cycled the puck in the corner once again. Branko Radivojevic found Michal Sersen wide open in the slot, but Starkbaum stopped Sersen’s shot. Tomas Rurovy grabbed the rebound, and snapped it in with a spin-o-rama shot at 9:00.

Both teams had several good scoring chances in the second period, including numerous odd-man rushes. Austria’s Gerhard Unterluggauer took care of one such attack by hitting the ice and intercepting the Slovak pass with his stick. A few minutes later, Radivojevic one-timed a slap shot from the slot, but Starkbaum made a save.

Austria had its chances as well - including one 4-on-1 attack - and Daniel Welser had one of the best ones when he got the puck right at Stana’s doorstep, but as he was about to shoot, he stepped on the puck and fell.

At the end of the period, Austria created some pressure in the Slovak zone and with 6:43 remaining in the period, Unterluggauer tied the game with a slap shot from the point. Slovakia’s Sersen tried to clear the puck out of the zone, but it landed straight at Unterluggauer’s feet instead. The veteran defenceman slapped it back, and scored his first goal of the tournament.

Couldn’t have come at a better time for Austria.

Miroslav Satan received a high-sticking minor with 54 seconds remaining in the third period. Austria couldn’t create any chances during the regulation time, and the five-minute overtime began with 4-on-3 play.

Austria dominated the overtime, and Slovakia didn’t even have any puck possession in Austria’s zone, looking ready to take their chances in a penalty shootout instead.

In the shootout, though, Starkbaum stopped all three Slovaks, and Vanek put the game to bed.

"[Goaltending] is a big factor in our game. The goaltender is like 70 or 80 percent. He gave us such a boost. He knew he didn’t play that well in the first two games, but as the tournament’s gone along, he’s battled through," said Austria's Daniel Welser.

"You go into the tournament, see whoever’s in your pool, and start thinking: ‘Who? Where? How?’ But right now, everybody’s on the same level. There is no difference between the French, the Russians. Everybody can beat everybody. That’s what this tournament’s proved so far," said Jurcina.


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