HALIFAX – Slovakia gained the upper hand in the best-of-three relegation playoff with Slovenia by winning 5-1 at the Metro Centre this afternoon. The winner of the mini-series will qualify for the top level of the World Championship in Switzerland in 2009 while the loser will be relegated to Division I.
Slovakia blew the game open with four goals in the second period. Leading the attack was Marcel Hossa with a goal and two assists. Slovakia outshot Slovenia, 50-11 and managed to keep the Slovenes' most dangerous threat, Anze Kopitar, on the periphery.
"We were ready for this game," Slovakia's Rene Vydareny said. "We didn't think about anything else except this hockey game and how we were going to win.
The opening goal came off a 5-on-3 power play with Dejan Varl and Marcel Rodman in the box. Lubomir Visnovsky’s point shot was tipped in front by Marcel Hossa, but goalie Robert Kristan made the save. The puck squirted through and landed on the stick of Robert Petrovicky who had an open net.
"We were a little disappointed with the refs," Slovenia's Gregor Poloncic countered, "but still, you can't give a team like Slovakia a 5-on-3 opportunity."
It was one of 18 shots fired at goalie Robert Kristan in the period. He was at his sensational best again, giving an otherwise outmanned team a chance to win. His teammates fired only four shots at Jan Lasak.
It was more of the same in the second as Slovakia broke the game open with four goals. The first came on a play Kristan had no chance on. Juraj Kolnik had a quick two-on-one with Marcel Hossa in close. Kolnik held onto the puck until Kristan committed to the shot, and then made a quick pass to Hossa who pushed the puck into the open net.
The third goal was similar. Visnovsky skated in on goal from the right side, spotted Andrej Podkonicky going hard to the net, and backhanded a pass right on the tape. Podkonicky merely had to deflect the puck past a helpless Kristan.
Slovenia did not go down quietly. The team struck back with a goal of their own just three minutes later when Mitja Robar beat Lasak with a backhand through a scrum of bodies in front. The puck slipped through Lasak’s pads from a bad angle.
Then, Andrej Kollar and Ivan Ciernik added two more goals to put the game well out of reach of the low-scoring Slovenes. Slovenia’s coach, Mats Waltin, inserted Andrej Hocevar for the final period, giving Kristan his first rest of the tournament.
The two teams are right back at it tomorrow night in a do-or-die game for Slovenia. "I think they will be more ready tomorrow," Vydareny said of Slovenia, "so we better be ready to pick it up."