DONETSK – With all left to play for, a nail-biting finish awaits during the final day of the Division I Group B. While the big showdown will be Ukraine against Poland for promotion. Lithuania vs. Estonia will be the relegation decider while the Netherlands and Romania will fight it out for the bronze.
Poland vs. Estonia 5-3 (1-0, 2-2, 2-1)
Hat-trick hero Aleksei Sibirtsev was the star man of the show as winless Estonia gave a bleak Poland a scare right up until the end. Despite weathering the storm to end up as eventual 5-3 winner, Poland has plenty to mull over ahead of their final game against Ukraine on Saturday for a place in next year's Division I Group A.
With just over two minutes left of the game and Estonia playing four-on-three, captain Aleksandr Ossipov controlled the puck on the blueline and fed Sibirtsev on the left who rammed home a slapshot past Przemyslaw Odrobny to cut Poland's lead to 4-3 and set up a nervous finish.
Estonia, winless so far but far from goal-shy, gathered momentum and came close to square the game when Robert Rooba from his position behind the goal played the puck in front of Poland's net where Andrei Lukin and Jevgeni Missenjov scrambled for the puck before Odrobny eventually managed to control it.
After Estonia head coach Dmitri Medvedev's time-out with 1:45 left and netminder Roman Sumihin pulled from the net, Estonia pushed for an equalizer. They won the ensuing face-off in Poland's zone, but instead of managing to get full control of the puck, Poland snapped up the disc and Krzyszof Zapala pinpointed Poland's 5-3 goal into the empty Estonian net.
"Before today's match the motivation was bad. I wanted to see how the team would develop without me interacting as a coach," said Poland coach Igor Zakharkin.
"I have to talk to my players about that you are not able to play ice hockey without being properly motivated, willing to win and have fighting spirit. This will be a valuable lesson for us ahead of the final," he continued.
Estonia, without injured inspirational captain Dmitri Rodin, welcomed back four of the players that were missing from the Romania game. Poland started slow in all of their four games during this World Championship but got off the mark to score the only goal in an even first period with 74 seconds to go.
Zapala had been upended by Ossipov as he raced into Estonia's zone. During the man advantage following the minor penalty, Adam Baginski started a move from the right side of the blueline, played it to Sebastian Kowalowka, who hit a cross-ice pass to the back post where Leszek Laszkiewicz's composed finish beat Villem-Henrik Koitmaa.
But going into the second period, Estonia showed once again their proficiency in attack when Sibirtsev tallied his first of the game to tie the game at 21:39 steering the puck past Odrobny in the Poland net.
The favourites in red then raised the tempo. Inspirational Krystian Dziubinski fed Radoslaw Galant on a two-and-one. Meanwhile Poland started to forecheck higher up to put increased pressure on Estonia's build-up play. Soon after there was a reward when Kolusz picked out Tomasz Malasinski, who put Poland in front 2-1.
But Estonia showed great resilience throughout the game and with their second line being in red-hot form this afternoon, Alexandr Kuznetsov and lively Vadim Virjassov fed Sibirtsev who shot low past Odrobny to once again tie the game at 32:18.
Roman Sumikhin replaced Koitmaa in the Estonian net for the final period, but got an unlucky start as it took 38 seconds before the puck had hit the back of his net. Poland on the power play saw Kolusz assist Dutka, who increased Poland's lead to 4-2, before Estonia rallied late which almost saw them grab a point but in the end ended up with their fourth straight loss.
But despite being winless, Sibirtsev takes a lot of heart from this performance ahead of the final game, the relegation decider against fellow Balts, Lithuania.
"We battled as hard as we could and were just a small step from winning this game," he said.
"Now we have to enter the Lithuania game with the same spirit as against Poland. I liked the way we played and fought today. If we can do the same against Lithuania then there is no worry," said Sibirtsev.
Romania vs. Lithuania 2-1 (1-0, 0-1, 1-0)
With just over 10 minutes left of this stalemate of an encounter, it opened up thanks to a flash of brilliant individual skill from Romania's Tihamer Becze. Twisting and turning the Lithuanian defence inside out, he picked out defenceman Szabolcs Papp, who hit home Romania's game winning 2-1 goal.
Romania's second successive victory puts them into contention for the bronze medals, while Lithuania need to pick themselves up ahead of their relegation decider against Estonia on Saturday.
"I though Lithuania would have wanted to come at us a bit more aggressively for a relegation game," Romania head coach Tom Skinner said.
"We knew about their big line and I thought we did a good job dislodging them, and in the end we got the power-play goal to win it, and now we will get ready for Saturday."
It was the winless Lithuanian who started brighter in a game that both teams began with great caution, unwilling to make any errors. Forward Darius Pliskausas, part of the big line feared by Romania's head coach, squandered a fine chance three minutes into the game.
Soon after, veteran Sarunas Kuliesius, who returned after a one-game absence, hit a shot along the goal line as he came from his position from behind goal. But it was Romania who went in front against the run of play, when Attila Goga sailed up from his defensive position to hit a wrist shot from the slot that slinked in behind Mantas Armalis on 7:49.
The goal-shy encounter continued in its careful manner throughout the middle frame. Romania protected their lead, but with Lithuania creating the clearer goal scoring opportunities. Kuliesius served a two-minute tripping call at the start of the period when Romania's Papp lost the puck on the offensive blueline, which saw Daniel Bogdziul squander two fine chances for the Balts.
But their reward came five minutes into the middle frame. When working on a two-man advantage Lithuania tied the game. Adrian Catrinoi Cornea was unable to hold on to a Rolandas Aliukonis slapshot with Dovydas Kulevicius being first to react for the 1-1 goal. Aliukonis came close again and soon after Lithuania continued a 5-on-4 power play in a period where they won the shots 17-12 but with an outcome that was impossible to call going into the final frame.
But it was Romania that hit the only goal of the final period as Papp's strike opened up the game during the final ten minutes. Lithuania, relying heavily on their Pliskauskas-Bogdziul-Bendzius first line, soldered on but Romania held out for their second successive win.
Lithuania on the other hand, now needs to find their first win in their relegation decider against Estonia on Saturday.
"Our tactics were right, we worked well for sixty minutes, we had scoring changes, but we did not use them and that's why Romania won," said Bernd Haake, head coach of Lithuania.
"We have to use our chances to score. Estonia has scored 11, we have only got 4 goals so far, so it will be another tough battle."
Meanwhile Romania has the chance for bronze and go one better than in Krynica last year.
"I think it will be an interested game on Saturday. I think they have a good team, but it's going to get down to 60 minutes and we got an opportunity to win a medal. A lot of people saw us as the team that were going to fall out, but we have continuously progressed over a number of years now," Skinner said.
Netherlands vs. Ukraine 2-3 (2-0, 0-2, 0-0, 0-1) OT
The Netherlands proved a tough nut to crack for pre-tournament favourites Ukraine, who were pushed all the way into overtime before finding their winning goal.
Oleg Tymchenko scored the OT-winner for the hosts, after Mitch Bruijsten and Steve Mason had sent the Dutch into a shock 2-0 lead after the first frame. Martijn Oosterwijk was in fine form for the Netherlands with 41 saves.
"It was a very difficult game for us," said Ukraine head coach Olexander Kulikov. "We are now without three players for the next game, and will have to play with three lines."
Forward Dmytro Nimenko got carried following a bad knock on his wrist, while Maxym Kvitchenko injured his collarbone during a physical evening encounter at the Ice Palace Druzhba. With forward Artem Gnidenko already unavailable due to injury, the Ukraine head coach will have a selection headache ahead of the big game against Poland on Saturday night where the winner takes a step up to Division I Group A.
In the game against the Netherlands, Ukraine set their stalls out early to attack with the sharpest offensive threat coming from the 2-metre man, Andri Mikhnov, bombing down the wings and causing havoc in the Dutch defensive zone. Two consecutive minor penalty calls against Dutch players increased Ukraine’s firepower for seeking an early goal, but it was Ivy van den Heuvel and Kevin Bruijsten who found Mitch Bruijsten who sailed through a passive Ukrainian defensive to hit home a shorthanded lead that sneaked in behind Yevgen Napnenko before seven minutes had been played.
But despite Ukraine winning the shots 14-6 it was the Netherlands who seized a shock two-goal lead with less a minute and a half left of the period, which silenced the vocal home crowd of 3,797.
Once again a slack Ukrainian defence was exposed, this time by a magnificent solo effort. Collecting a pass from Raphael Joly in the neutral zone, Steve Mason first brushed off Denys Petrukhno as he sailed towards goal, before placing the puck high past Napnenko in the Ukraine net.
Ukraine gave the home crowd their reward in the middle frame as the men in blue and yellow overpowered and outshot their opponents 21-4 and had the home crowd on their feet twice before the second intermission.
The menacing line with Mikhnov, Olexander Toryanyk and Artem Bondaryev tormented the Dutch time and time again. It was Mikhnov, who pulled a goal back early in the second period, and midway through the period when Ukraine finally deservedly tied the game it was Oleg Tymchenko, who hit a one-time slapshot high into the Dutch net from the slot after fine work from Oleg Materukhin.
Successive minor penalties for Ukraine offer the Netherlands a chance to get back into the game, but before the end of the period a third Ukrainian goal hung in the air and should have taken the lead when Sergi Varlamov and Roman Blagy raced clear against the Dutch goal to force a fine save out of Oosterwijk with less than three minutes to go of a second period that finished 2-2.
"Our plan was to work hard, compete and play a physical game and take them out of their structure and flow. We did a good job, although the second period was harder, but in the third period we had a bit more level play," said the Netherlands' head coach Barry Smith.
A free-flowing third period ended up goalless, and the ensuing overtime was into its third minute when Nick de Jong lost the puck in the corner, with Toryanyk picking out an unmarked Tymchenko who scored his second for the night and Ukraine's winner.
"We need to improve our power play and convert our chances if we want to beat Poland," said Kulikov.
Meanwhile the Dutch head coach Smith has plenty to be content with after pushing the pre-tournament favourites all the way to the wire with a depleted roster.
"Although we wanted to win, I am satisfied with how we played. We are probably missing six regular starters here so I am very proud of our guys as we are now going for the bronze medals," he said.
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