MALMÖ – Nic Petan's two late goals lifted Canada past Slovakia 5-3. Anthony Mantha had a goal and three assists for the winners, who trailed 3-1 in the second period.
The game was decided largely by discpline and power plays. Canada lost its composure badly in the second period but regained it for the final period and forced the Slovaks into two penalties at critical times.
"We can't play against their power play like that, when we trip someone or do something we don't have to," said Slovakia captain Milan Kolena. "We worked hard in this game. It was so close, but we made some bad mistakes at the wrong time, and it cost us a win."
Most of the 2,558 fans at the Isstadion wore red and white and cheered for Canada, and the fans got exactly what they wanted – a Canadian win.
"Since the beginning of the tournament they've been supporting us. They're such great fans, and it's great for us," said Mantha, who is now tied for most points in the tournament with nine.
The Slovaks were unfazed by the noise and silenced the fans with a power-play goal just 1:40 into the game. The man advantage was the result of a completely unnecessary hitting to the head penalty against Jonathan Drouin just ten seconds after the opening faceoff (and carried with it an automatic 10-minute misconduct).
Jakub Predajniansky’s point shot went wide to the near side of Zachary Furcale but came out the other where David Griger snapped it into the open side. The rest of the period was dominated by Canada, but despite the puck possession the players had trouble finishing around the goal.
Finally, though, the team got a late power play and converted when Mantha found Curtis Lazar at the top of the crease at 18:12 to tie the score, 1-1.
The second period was full of events thanks to a loss of discipline on the part of the Canadians. After coming up empty on an early power play, they took four successive minors during the rest of the middle 20 minutes, twice giving the Slovaks long 5-on-3 chances, twice surrendering goals.
And, as always, it was the top line of Griger-Milan Kolena-Martin Reway that did the damage. In the first instance, Reway drilled a great shot over the shoulder of Fucale, off the crossbar and in, at 7:07. Then, five minutes later, Griger finished a lovely passing play from his linemates to hit the open and back side of the net.
The Canadian fans were incensed at the refereeing, but they had only their own team to blame for the meltdown and parade to the sin bin. And then, just when it seemed the Canadian cause had all been lost, the players clawed their way back.
Aaron Ekblad threw a quick shot at Samuel Baros in the Slovak goal. The goalie failed to control the puck and Mantha muscled the puck in to make it 3-2.
The emotions ran high as the Slovak coach Ernest Bokros tried to keep his team calm in the face of a massive upset and his counterpart, Brent Sutter, had to find a way to do the same – calm his team down, in the face of supreme adversity for his teenage charges.
"We took some dumb penalties," Petan acknowledged. "We know the refs are a little bit different over here in Europe, so we have to be better with that tomorrow."
Canada waited until under six minutes to go in the third to tie the game. Mantha banged Erik Cernak off the puck behind the goal and got it out front to Drouin, who snapped it instantly behind Baros to make it 3-3.
That set the stage for Petan's game winner. Predajniansky took a high-sticking penalty, and then Mantha went to work, feeding Petan to the side of the net.
"We have an established play down low with 'Pets'," Mantha explained. "He just came out in front and had an open shot and took it. Fortunately it went in. It was great."
"I just tried to be patient," Petan described. "I held onto it and found the open net. The way the goalie was playing it, I felt I could take the shot."
Appropriately, Petan then added another goal into the empty net to close out the scoring.