ZSC Lions vs. Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 (1-1, 1-0, 1-0)
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ZURICH – Last year, the NHL challenger came from a 3-0 deficit to win the Victoria Cup. This time around, the European champions, ZSC Lions, held on to their 2-1 lead all the way to the end, with forward Patrick Bärtschi and goaltender Ari Sulander leading the way.
Bärtschi, who tied the game in the first period, and had a chance to score another one on a penalty shot in the third, was also elected the game's MVP.
"I knew that if we just believe in ourselves, we'll have a chance," said Sulander, 40, who made 34 saves in the game.
"Our guys helped me well, it's been years since the last time I've seen them block shots like they did tonight," he said, smiling.
The ZSC Lions had had a few days since their last game to focus on the Victoria Cup final. They practised well, they saw the Blackhawks rout HC Davos on Monday, 9-2, and they were ready to give the NHL team a run for their money.
"They played better than we, and they wanted to win more than we," said the Blackhawks goaltender Cristobal Huet.
"It was a good lesson for us, we'll have to work hard if we want to be succesful," he added.
It was obvious from the first shifts that unlike Davos, the Lions wouldn't make it easy for the Hawks. The Blackhawks, dressed in white tonight, controlled the game early on, pushing ZSC to their heels, partly thanks to a powerplay at the three-minute mark.
A minute after Domenico Pittis was back on the ice, Patrick Sharp found Cam Barker on the blueline. His onetimer found its way through some traffic in front of the net, under Lions goaltender Ari Sulander’s arm.
The teams took turns in creating a few scoring chances, and at 12:25, Thibault Monnet sent a quick pass across the neutral zone, sending Patrick Bärtschi on a breakaway. He made a deke to his backhand, then moved the puck back to his forehand and, with Chicago goaltender Cristobal Huet out of the way, put it into an empty net, to tie the game.
"He made a nice move, and sure, you can always think you should have got that one, but he did it well," Huet said.
The beginning of the second period wasn't as intense, as both teams tried to avoid mistakes that would have given the other team a chance to score. At 27:59, Blaine Down - up from the farm team for the Victoria Cup game - took a hooking penalty in the Chicago zone, giving the Blackhawks the chance they had been waiting for.
However, the Lions killed off the penalty, and got back to work.
After a Chicago turnover in the neutral zone, Cyrill Bühler skated into the Blackhawks zone, and sent a wrist shot from the top of the circle. Huet made a save but Lukas Grauwiler was the first one at the rebound and he tipped the puck in with a backhander, beating Huet on the glove side at 34:44.
With 2:28 remaining in the second period, Chicago got a chance to tie the game on a power play, but again, the Lions’ penalty killing was excellent, with Sulander taking care of shots from the blueline, and the Swiss team held on to its lead.
"We’re not surprised at the score, we have a lot of respect for our opponent, and they’re European champions for a reason," Patrick Sharp said after the second period.
"We just have to move our feet a little more, they’re outskating us right now. Hopefully we can get one," he added.
The Blackhawks came strong out of the gate in the third period, pushing the Lions against the wall. Halfway through the third period, the Hawks had outshot the Lions 31-17.
At 53:16, the Lions got their powerplay opportunity when Jack Skille received a minor penalty for equipment infraction. The opportunity seemed to dry up when Mark Bastl took a penalty just 48 seconds later. But just 14 seconds from that, the Lions found themselves on a 4-on-3 powerplay, thanks to Dave Bolland's penalty.
Patrik Bärtschi got pulled down on a breakaway with 3:15 remaining, and a penalty shot was called. However, Cristobal Huet managed to stop Bärtschi's wristshot from up close.
The Blackhawks pressed hard, but the Lions held on, and protected their lead.
"Last night's game against Davos was probably misleading. Tonight we played against a very well organized team who outplayed and outworked us," said Huet.
And that's why they won the second edition of the Victoria Cup.
The NHL and Europe are now tied at one Cup each.