QUEBEC CITY – Earlier in the tournament, Swiss coach Ralph Krueger said: “My guys don’t have NHL offensive skills, but they do have NHL defensive skills.” Predictably, Switzerland kept it close for half the game before falling 5-0 to the Czechs in Qualifying Round action Thursday night.
With the win in front of an announced crowd of 9.603, the Czechs moved into first place in Group D with seven points, ahead of Sweden and Switzerland, which have six apiece.
Martin Erat scored the game-winner and had an assist. Patrik Elias and Tomas Kaberle also paced the Czech attack with a goal and an assist apiece, and Tomas Fleischmann and Jiri Novotny had the other Czech tallies.
“We wanted to hold on to the puck and control the game,” said Kaberle. “They didn't have that many shots on our goal, and our goalie had a clear view on all the shots, which was good.”
Czech starter Milan Hnilicka got his first shutout in Switzerland’s first loss of the 2008 IIHF World Championship.
From the start, the Swiss sat back and bided their time like judicious clockmakers. Checking tenaciously and clogging up the ice, they gave the skilled Czech passers and shooters as little room to execute as possible. Switzerland’s Thomas Deruns generated two turnovers and came close to scoring on a partial break and a wraparound attempt. But overall, the Swiss barely generated any shots.
“Our plan was to shut down the neutral zone, we played the same way we play against everybody,” said Switzerland’s Paul DiPietro. “We don't think about the opponent, we worry only about how we play.”
Shortly past the halfway point of the period, Jaroslav Hlinka took a smart headman pass from Zbynek Michalek, whipped past the Swiss defence at the blueline, and deked but couldn’t beat Swiss netminder Martin Gerber.
With 54 seconds left in the first period, the favourites finally broke through. Switzerland’s Goran Bezina lost the puck in the neutral zone to Tomas Rolinek, and Martin Erat took his pass and sprinted in on goal to lift a wrister over Gerber’s glove.
Five minutes into the second period, Gerber smartly slid across to foil Radim Vrbata on a 2-on-1 rush. Midway through the game, he held his ground when Vrbata deked his way out of the corner and tried to stuff it in on a Czech power play. The Czechs had the territorial edge but were struggling to put this game away.
That is, until the 14:44 mark of the second, when Patrik Elias set up Tomas Kaberle for a power play one-timer from above the hash marks, which blew past Gerber for a 2-0 lead.
“We knew they have a great power play, great hands there in Elias and Kaberle, and you can't give them the opportunity to use it,” said DiPietro.
With 4:10 left before the buzzer, Elias stickhandled out of the corner and roofed one over Gerber’s blocker on yet another power play. And at 19:34, Tomas Fleischmann made it 4-0 when he zoomed in on Gerber and was stopped, but Swiss D-man Julien Vauclair inadvertently gloved the puck out of mid-air into his own net.
The last Czech goal came from Jiri Novotny with 1:50 left in the game, as he shoved a loose puck through Gerber’s pads.
The Czech Republic extended its shots-on-goal advantage in the third period, finishing with a 33-12 edge.
There were to be no upsets this day. Backstopped by David Aebischer, the Swiss shocked the Czechs 3-2 at the 2006 Olympics. The last time Switzerland beat Czechs at World Championships was April 29, 1991, by a 4-3 count against the forerunner Czechoslovakia.
The Czechs got some reinforcements, inserting forward Tomas Plekanec of the Montreal Canadiens and defenceman Michal Rozsival of the New York Rangers into their lineup.