The Czechs are close to reaching the quarter-finals after beating Norway 1-0 in Sunday night’s game at Chizhovka Arena.
The only goal of the game was scored after 39 seconds, when Norway’s goaltender Steffen Soberg lost track of a rebound after a Tomas Hertl shot from close distance. Vladimir Sobotka, trailing, picked up the puck and put it past the netminder.
"I’m happy with the three points tonight," Vladimir Sobotka said. "But our game was a little questionable. We lost a few pucks in the neutral zone and turned it over. They had good breakouts and we just couldn’t get back. So they got back in the game. We have to be better in the next game."
The win takes the Czech team up to 10 points, giving them an opportunity to secure third place in Group A with a win in the next game versus France.
"They have a good team," said Sobotka about their next opponents. "They’re going to be fast and strong. We’re going to have to outbattle them and try to score more goals than tonight."
For Norway, a slim chance to sneak in to the quarter-finals remains, but they need help from other teams. They can finish with a maximum of ten points.
"I think we played a pretty good game," said Anders Bastiansen, Norway's captain. "It’s important to score goals and we didn’t do that. Our goalie held us in the game. They had a lot of good scoring chances. But we just couldn’t score on Salak."
Alexander Salak shut out the Norwegians and made 21 saves, including a penalty shot from Ken Andre Olimb.
Soberg, making his second start of the tournament, saved 38 shots in the losing effort.
After the chock start, the Norwegians recovered but seven minutes in they found themselves pushed back all the way into their own crease as Sobotka, Hertl and Jaromir Jagr put on the pressure for a second goal. Through hard work and some bounces that went their way, Norway stopped the Czechs from getting the two-goal lead.
"We had a good feeling the whole game," said Bastiansen. "We have been working really hard the whole tournament and trying to get points. Sometimes the puck bounces with us, and sometimes it doesn’t."
Early in the second, Roman Cervenka was sent to the box for boarding Mathis Olimb. Norway generated a few shots on the Czech net on the ensuing power play, but Alexander Salak had little trouble steering the attempts out of harms way.
But the Czechs did not generate much either in the minutes that followed after they had returned to full strength. The next great chance came halfway through the contest when Morten Ask was stopped from taking a shot on net as Salak’s stick came flying. The referee ruled Salak’s manoeuvre intentional and that Norway should be awarded a penalty shot.
Salak, however, followed Norwegian shooter Ken Andre Olimb’s deke nicely and kept the one-goal lead intact.
As the game went on, the defensive minded Norwegian squad continued to be patient and took every opportunity to go on the counter-attack, worrying the Czechs that have seen leads evaporate twice before in this tournament.
"We’ve got to be a little calmer with the puck," explained Sobotka. "And when you have it, you’ve just got to shoot the puck where the goalie is not."
The Czech’s almost got the insurance marker they were looking for early in the third, when Jiri Sekac hit the post with his blazing wrist-shot as he stepped into the slot. Three minutes later, Sekac fed the puck to Jiri Novotny, who raced in on a 2-on-1 break, but once again Soberg made the save.
At 11:05, Morten Ask took a slapshot to his head. He immediately fell to the ice and Norway’s medical staff ran out to the ice. After getting some attention, he managed to skate off the ice and headed immediately for the dressing room. He did not return in the game.
Norway’s search for a tying goal intensified in the last ten minutes. With four minutes remaining they got a great chance to get the desired goal when Jaromir Jagr was given a two-minute minor for slashing. But they failed to generate much in the way of offence, as the Czech four-man units effectively closed down Norway’s attempts.
With one minute remaining, Norway pulled Soberg for the extra attacker, but the Czechs held on for the win.
Norway faces Canada in their last game of the preliminary round.
"We’ve got to score goals," offered Bastiansen. "We’ve got to get the pucks into the net and be there. Score on rebounds and block their shooting lanes. That’s the key, I think."