STOCKHOLM – Matthias Bieber had a goal and assist in a three-goal third period to lead Switzerland to an historic 4-1 win over Belarus. Switzerland finished the preliminary round with seven wins and no losses, its best record ever.
The only blemish was the loss of one point in the standings because they needed a shootout to beat Canada, garnering two points instead of three.
It was back in 1939 that Switzerland won six games in a row leading up to the medal round robin. In the end, the team finished with a 7-1-2 record, good enough for bronze.
The 2013 team has now set a record with seven wins in a row, tied a record for most wins at one World Championship or Olympics, and put itself in excellent position to win a medal for the first time since 1953. They won a bronze that year, but that was tempered by the fact that only three teams competed (they had a record of 1-0-3).
Bieber ripped a power-play shot under the blocker of goalie Vitali Belinksi from the right faceoff circle on a play started by Swiss goalie Reto Berra to give the Swiss a 2-1 lead.
Three minutes later, he made a perfect feed to Julian Walker from behind the net which Walker buried. Walker later hit the empty net to close out the scoring with 58.4 seconds remaining.
It was a game that had far more importance to the Swiss than the Belarusians. For the latter, it was a placement game. A win would have possibly moved the team up in the final placing, but Switzerland was fighting for first place in the Stockholm group and a date with either Norway or the Czech Republic. A loss would have meant a quarter-finals game against the much stronger Swedes.
"Both teams are going to be playing well," forward Ryan Gardner said of the upcoming Norway-Czech Republic game, "I don't care who wins, but I do hope they battle it out and beat the heck out of each other."
"We had a great run, but now it doesn’t matter anymore," coach Sean Simpson said more philosophically. "Now we have to take our opponent in the quarter-finals. So far we have had a very consistent tournament, which he haven’t always had."
Although the Swiss scored the only goal of the opening period, they had much the better of play and should have opened a larger lead. Roman Josi got the team off to a fantastic start when he roared down the right wing and cut hard in on goal. He jammed the puck at Belinski who fumbled the puck and had it dribble over the goal line.
The Swiss kept the pressure up but did little with two power-play chances, but they outshot Belarus 16-4 and were in control. That control continued into the second period, but so, too, did the score. Both teams played stingy defence and scoring chances were few and far between.
"They're a frustrating team to play against," said Gardner. "They put a lot of bodies in front of the net. We just had to try to stick to our game plan and bury our chances."
The best chance came when Josi stepped out of the penalty box and fed a beautiful breakaway pass to Andres Ambuhl, but he blasted a shot into the gut of Belinski.
Belarus stunned the Swiss with a tying goal early in the third on a play similar to Josi's goal in the first. Ilya Shinkevich drove down the left wing and cut in on goal past defenceman Patrick von Gunten. Shinkevich's shot squeaked by Berra and sat on the goal line. Yevgeni Kovyrshin dove at it and poked it over the line at 1:35.
"I thought we bounced back in the third well," Gardner added. "We have some older guys and a lot of confidence. We were getting our chances, so it was just a matter of time."
Confidence and momentum, veteran experience and youthful enthusiasm, goaltending, defence, and timely scoring. The Swiss have had it all this year. But, as quarter-finals day approaches, the big question is, How long can they keep it going? Can they win one more game? Two? Or, do they dream of three?