Kostitsyn's heroics

Two goals, a killer pass and a big win

12.05.2014
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Minsk Arena Minsk  Belarus

Switzerland's Reto Berra #20 makes the save against Belarus' Geoff Platt #16 during preliminary round action at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images

The host nation is dreaming of progress after downing winless Switzerland 4-3 thanks to Sergei Kostitsyn's masterclass at Minsk Arena.

Two goals and a killer pass from Sergei Kostitsyn to create the game-winner helped Belarus to a dramatic victory over Switzerland and put the host nation in a great position to make the quarter-finals on home ice.

The 4-3 success puts the Bison on six points from three games, while Switzerland and Finland are still yet to get off the mark in the competition.

And the Avangard Omsk winger, who has suffered a difficult season in Siberia, is clearly relishing the opportunity to star in front of his home fans with three goals in those three games.

He also created Mikhail Grabovski's winner on 57:54 with a defence-splitting pass from blue line to blue line, enabling the Washington Capitals forward to get one-on-one with Reto Berra and force the puck home.

There were still anxious moments to come for Belarus, which had to kill a penalty on Dmitri Korobov to secure its success and leave Kostitsyn to soak up the plaudits after he was pushed onto the first line in the final session and snatched the win.

"It wasn't just about my pass - you have to get open for it like Misha [Grabovski] did," said Kostitsyn after the game. "The key thing was that I came out in the third period and played alongside Grabovski and Kalyuzhny. They are big time players. Glen [Hanlon, Belarus head coach] feels the game very well and he felt that if he put us three together we could create chances and score goals."

His first came in the sixth minute, opening the scoring with Belarus short-handed. His breakaway began on his own blue line and ended with him find Reto Berra's top corner as Eric Blum vainly struggled to slide in and block the shot.

The second came midway through the third, tying the game at 3-3 with a finish from a tight angle after great play from Mikhail Grabovski to fashion the opportunity.

Grabovski was full of praise for his team's efforts going forward: "All through the game we played well on offence but we didn't always get the breaks," he said. "But in the end it all worked out well. I think Stas's goal was the key one, but all the guys played well."

He then had a chance to win it on 57:05, only to be denied by Berra's stick as Belarus pressed on the power play but, after the game went four-on-four, his superb pass created the winner.

Switzerland saw three players score their first World Championship goals for the country, but may well feel that it failed to fully exploit an often anxious Belarusian rearguard. Defeat leaves last season's silver medalist in danger of missing the knock-out phase altogether.

Defenceman Eric Blum lamented his team's fortunes: "That last goal against us was tough and we should have gotten at least one point out of this game. They got a boost from the crowd, but we have to take the good things and move on.

"We really need to tighten up our defence because you can't give up four goals and hope to win games at this level."

The Swiss led twice, cancelling out Kostitsyn's opener when Yannick Weber's one-timer brought him his first international goal and forging ahead thanks to a short-handed breakaway converted by Reto Schappi after Roman Graborenko's blunder on the blue line.

Belarus came out for the second session determined to put the pressure on Switzerland and almost found a breakthrough inside three minutes. Sergei Kostitsyn was again involved, collecting a Grabovski feed at the far post and lining up to shoot into a gaping goal. But Berra performed wonders to hurl himself back across the crease and smother the chance.

Kostitsyn took out his frustrations on Schappi, and while the duo were sin-binned Belarus tied it up. Andrei Stas showed great persistence to wriggle away from Kevin Romy on the boards and squeeze a low shot under the goalie's arm.

Chances continued to flow at both ends, with Switzerland surprisingly shot-shy in the face of some erratic Belarusian defence while the home team was often guilty of seeking one pass too many in its efforts to unpick the Swiss rearguard. Berra was still the busier of the goalies, and he was called into action once again in the final minute as Andrei Stepanov set up Grabovski with a tempting chance close in.

However, it seemed that Switzerland would get away with the win when Etienne Froidevaux, on his international debut, stormed into the Belarus zone and fired a blistering shot through Vladimir Denisov's legs, leaving Vitali Koval with no chance.

But Belarus - and Kostitsyn in particular - recovered in breathless fashion in the final 15 minutes to seal a victory which could match the importance of the 2006 win over Switzerland that booked the country's first ever World Championship quarter-final spot.

Vladimir Denisov, a veteran of that 2006 game, saw some similarities between those two encounters, but wasn't eager to revisit the past.

"That was another tight game, just one goal in it like today," he said. "Maybe in Riga it was a bit different, a bit bigger emotion because it was for a place in the quarter-final and it was my first World Championship, but I'm also very happy with this win."

ANDY POTTS

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