Smash and Grabovski

Caps star hits two as BLR sinks GER

17.05.2014
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Minsk Arena Minsk  Belarus

Germany's Leon Draisaitil (#71) and Mikhail Grabovski (#84) of Belarus battle for position. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Image

Another Belarusian comeback led the host nation to a convincing win over Germany and puts Glen Hanlon's team firmly in contention for a quarter-final berth.

Mikhail Grabovski led the way as comeback kings Belarus turned around a 0-2 deficit and downed Germany 5-2, blasting new life into the hosts' quarter-final dream.

A double-whammy early in the third period lifted the home team into a decisive lead, taking Belarus to nine points and a share of second place with Latvia. Finland and the USA are one point back as Group B's contenders bunch up some distance behind runaway leader Russia.

Grabovski was the key man yet again, claiming two goals and an assist to take his personal points haul to 3+4=7 in five games so far.

"In the first instance we won the game thanks to team spirit and discpline," Grabovski said after the game. "All the players on the ice took responsibility for their game.

"Hockey's the kind of game where you can't relax for a second - we did that and they got two quick goals on us but then we got it back together and you could see the result."

But a Belarus recovery to win a game that seemed to be drifting away should not come as a huge surprise: all three home victories in this year's World Championship have seen the team in red come from behind. Against Kazakhstan a 0-1 first period deficit became a 4-1 win, then Switzerland saw 2-1 and 3-2 leads evaporate as Belarus won 4-3 with Sergei Kostitsyn in superb form.

And Kostitsyn played a big role again here, with Glen Hanlon reprising the reshuffle that put him on a line with Grabovski and Alexei Kalyuzhny to such potent effect against the Swiss.

The new look first troika came up trumps once again, combining for the go-ahead goal on 42:55. Kalyuzhny found Kostitsyn, and the Avangard Omsk man's shot was deflected by Grabovski who managed to score close in at the second attempt.

Seventy seconds later the noise levels from the 14,500 fans in Minsk Arena hit a new high as Geoff Platt extended the advantage. The other Kostitsyn brother, Andrei, created space with a rush on the net, allowing Platt to bring the puck to the face-off spot and place a wrist shot inside Rob Zepp's near post. That goal also brought the game's two Ontario-born players into direct confrontation, with the naturalized Belarusian and former Dynamo Minsk favourite winning the duel of the expats over his fellow Canadian.

And Grabovski grabbed his second of the game in the 50th minute, finishing decisively off a Sergei Kostitsyn pass to kick off the post-game party with 10 minutes to go.

"Most of all we feel a real responsibility playing in front of our fans," Grabovski added, going on to pay tribute to the work of head coach Hanlon. "He makes it easy to understand how he wants us to play."

Going into the game both teams knew that victory would place them in the thick of the four teams jockeying for position behind Russia. But each also knew that defeat would mean an anxious wait to ensure the spectre of relegation was banished.

Germany was the first to show in a cautious opening, temporarily dousing home hopes with two goals midway through the first session.

First Kai Hospelt let rip from the blue line, beating Vitali Koval rather too easily considering the goalie's clear view of the shot and the distance the puck had to travel.

Then Alexander Barta doubled the advantage with the help of some lax defence. He was allowed to boss the slot before lifting the puck upstairs and force coach Glen Hanlon to call a time-out.

At that point Germany's Felix Schutz felt his team should have gone on to win the game. "If you are leading 2-0 in the first period and you're a good team you really have to win that game," he said. "We made a lot of mistakes, and they had a lot of rushes. It was one goal, then another, then another ... suddenly we were losing 2-3. It was just a bad game for us."

But Belarus forward Geoff Platt always believed in victory. "The first goal against us was pretty flukey and we knew we were playing better than what the scoreline reflected when we were down 2-0. We cut the lead and got that momentum swing going into the break and carried it through."

That pause seemed to steady Belarus, and when a penalty on the Germans presented an opportunity it took just 22 seconds for Andrei Stepanov to post his third goal of the tournament. Not for the first time the Amur Khabarovsk centre was well served by his line-mates, with Kalyuzhny and Grabovski pinging the puck to and fro across the circle to find Stepanov out in front.

The middle session saw Belarus replace the ailing goalie Koval with Kevin Lalande - meaning a game between Belarus and Germany featured two Canadian goalies - but it was the home offence that demanded more attention early on. Hanlon's reshuffled top line almost tied it up in the first play of the periodwhen Kostitsyn collected a lovely drop-off from Kalyuzhny and rattled the inside of Zepp's post in the first minute of the period.

However, with both teams continuing in a cautious vein it did not spark a significant Belorusian onslaught and both teams struggled to carve out real scoring chances until Belarus tied it up in the 35th minute with a goal made in the Far East. Stepanov and Alexei Ugarov, who plays his club hockey in distant Vladivostok, led a surge on Zepp's goal and after Stepanov's shot was saved Ugarov reacted fastest to sweep the rebound into the net.

After the Admiral man's goal the rest was plain sailing for Belarus, which now has a great chance to navigate its passage to the QF; Germany, meanwhile, may be looking anxiously at the relegation trapdoor if its form doesn't improve.

ANDY POTTS

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