Outshooting Italy 53-20, Slovakia earned a 4-1 win on Saturday at Chizhovka Arena. With the victory, the Slovaks keep their quarter-final hopes alive.
Marek Daloga, Michel Miklik and Tomas Tatar had a goal and an assist apiece for Slovakia, while Marek Viedensky also scored. Karol Sloboda added a pair of helpers.
"It was a huge win for us," said Tatar. "We needed those three points, and we are really happy. That’s how we want to play."
"We were skating," added Ladislav Nagy. "That's what we are talking about within the team as well, to keep skating to keep the pressure on them."
Italian captain Alexander Egger potted a single.
Slovakia still needs to beat Denmark in its final round-robin game to have a chance. And the Slovaks could also use some other help from the Danes. If Denmark beats France in regulation on Monday, that will be a plus. If France gets to 10 points, the Slovaks will be unable to pass them in the standings.
"If France loses some games, we can still get in," said Tatar. "They have some pretty tough matchups, so our focus is to rest up and bring some energy to the Denmark game. I’m pretty sure we can win that game if we play responsibly like we did tonight."
The newly promoted Italians now have just three points and one game left to play against group-leading Sweden. They are eliminated from quarter-finals contention.
"I think we were obviously completely outplayed and outclassed," said Italian coach Tom Pokel. "I think we were flat. It’s the sixth game of our tournament. We had a tough game against Canada last night, and I think you could see that was still in our players."
It came as no surprise that Italian goalie Daniel Bellissimo was far busier than his Slovak counterpart Jan Laco.
"They've got a very good team," Bellissimo said. "Both of us were at the bottom, and we knew they were going to come out flying and make it hard for us and they did. They forechecked hard, and made it really tough for our defense, so they were a little bit too much for us tonight."
Slovakia came hair-raisingly close to opening the scoring when David Borrelli was sent off for tripping at 4:44, but couldn’t get the puck over the line. Bellissimo absolutely stoned Slovak captain Miroslav Satan with a desperation glove save.
Just past the halfway mark of the first period, Daloga worked a beautiful give-and-go with Karol Sloboda on a 2-on-1 rush, giving the Slovaks a 1-0 lead as he directed the puck past the goalie’s right skate.
Tatar almost gave Slovakia a two-goal lead on a breakaway, but Bellissimo foiled the Detroit forward with a poke-check, losing his stick in the process.
The score could have been even higher, as the Slovaks had a whopping 22-3 edge in shots on goal in the first period.
Viedensky put Slovakia up 2-0 at 3:05 of the second period, swooping into the Italian zone to stuff a bouncing puck through Bellissimo’s pads as the goalie slid back into his net.
Slovakia gave Italy a small window of opportunity to get back into the game by taking consecutive minors. Midway through the second period, Brian Ihnacak – the Canadian-born son of former Slovak NHLer Peter Ihnacak – nearly got Italy on the board, but Laco stymied him with a gutsy right pad stop.
Slovak forward Marcel Hascak was left bleeding near the Italian net when the puck came up and hit him in the face. He was taken to hospital for X-rays.
Tatar stretched Slovakia’s lead to 3-0 at 14:13 of the second when he exploited a turnover off a draw in the Italian end, sending the puck cross-ice to Miklik and then firing the return pass into a wide-open net. The Slovaks' skill was just too much for their blue-clad opponents.
"He passed it back and I found my spot," said Tatar. "It was pretty much an empty-net goal."
With 1:34 left in the middle frame, Italy spoiled Laco’s shutout bid. Egger, set up by Nicola Fontanive, took a slapper from the left faceoff circle that went in five-hole.
Daloga was shaken up on a collision with Italy’s Giulio Scandella in the Slovak end in the first minute of the third, but managed to skate back to the bench under his own steam for examination by the medical staff. Daloga would continue.
Bellissimo did his best when the Slovaks got a 5-on-3, but couldn’t stop Milkik from banging in a rebound to make it 4-1 at 8:07.
Tatar was obstructed on a clear break and got a penalty shot with 5:20 remaining, but was unable to outthink Bellissimo, as he ran out of room stickhandling on his attempt.
"This is pretty much how I’m going in Detroit too," Tatar said. "I’m trying to go slowly. I think I had him. I just should have shot right away, instead of holding on to it. Then he put his pad there and I didn’t know what to do. I was kind of disappointed in myself."
The Slovaks unnecesarily gave Italy a late 5-on-3, and Italian coach Tom Pokel then pulled his goalie for the extra attacker, but Italy simply ran out of time. Trevor Johnson rang one off the goal post, but that was as close as they'd get.
"I have a birthday today and my guys gave me a very nice present," said 67-year-old Slovak coach Vladimir Vujtek.
This was Italy’s fifth loss of all time to Slovakia, dating back to 1997. The last meeting between these two nations was in Russia 2000, where the Slovaks won 6-2.