This was the first time Belarus beat the Swedes in nine World Championship meetings. You have to go back to the memorable 2002 Olympic quarter-final to find the last time the Bison defeated the Scandinavian giants. But in a championship full of unpredictable encounters, a goal from German Nesterov early in the third period was the catalyst for yet another shock.
"Up to now, it's the most important goal I've scored," the 29-year-old HK Gomel forward said. "We wanted to go out and play hard in that third period. Mikhail Stefanovich gave me a pass and I had almost an empty net."
Sweden was undone by a blistering offensive display from Denmark’s Nicklas Jensen in game one as it suffered a first ever loss to its Nordic neighbour. Today, though, it foundered against a well-drilled Belarusian defence that clearly learned from its failings in the 2-5 loss to Slovakia. Goalie Danny Taylor secured a shutout in his first World Championship start, defying Sweden and lifting Belarus to victory.
True, there was early cause for concern. Yegor Sharangovich took a double minor for high sticking early in the game, giving the Swedes a first chance to flex their PP muscles in this year’s tournament. However, they spurned the invitation to take an early grip on proceedings, managing just three shots on Taylor’s net.
And throughout the game, Mikhail Zakharov’s team deployed a solid defensive formation, ceding the outside to the Swedish offence only to lure the yellow jerseys into a maze of blocked up lanes that protected the net.
At the other end, the Belarusians almost snatched a lead against the run of play in the eighth minute when the puck came to Mikhail Stefanovich all alone at the back door. However, the Yunost Minsk forward took too long to shoot at an empty net and Viktor Loov got back to slam his stick in the way.
Belarus suffered a blow shortly afterwards when experienced defenceman Yevgeni Lisovets was stretchered off the ice following a collision with Carl Klingberg, who scored twice in the loss to Denmark. The Swedish forward also picked up a knock in the first period and remained in the locker room after the intermission. Lisovets went to hospital and the Belarusian camp is waiting for more details about his condition and his availability for the rest of the tournament.
"Zhenya [Lisovets] is a big loss, but the secret of a successful team is that nobody is irreplaceable," said Alexei Protas. "We kept battling, we kept playing to win. We wanted it for the fans, for Zhenya and everything worked out perfectly."
"We controlled the puck for most of the game. We had our chances, but we couldn’t find the back of the net," Rakell said. "We want the results, but we haven’t got it done yet. We’ve kind of tightened up right now. We have to find a way to play loose again and play with that joy again. The next game is do-or-die for us. We have to find a way to start winning games here if we want a future in this tournament."
The second period continued in similar vein, with Belarus frustrating the Swedes as the game stayed goalless through 40 minutes. It was perhaps telling that the most anxious moment for Taylor came on the Swedish power play but, rather than stopping a shot the Belarusian goaltender had to react smartly to push away a rebound that cannoned off Nick Bailen and threatened to sneak inside the post.
Sweden created better opportunities late in the frame with the Kempe brothers, Adrian and Mario, combining to cause alarm in the Belarus defence. But Adrian Kempe, perhaps driven by the increasing frustration for his team, remained on the ice for an overly-extended shift and it was his giveaway that almost presented Vladislav Kodola with an opening goal for Belarus.
If that was a warning, it went unheeded. Belarus started the third with the opening goal as Sweden’s defence got in a tangle and left German Nesterov all alone in front of the net. Stefanovich picked him out between the hash marks and with time and space to pick his spot, the HK Gomel forward gave his team the lead.
Sweden continued to press, but Belarus remained resolute in defence. The bulk of the shooting was still coming from the outside and Taylor was equal to it all. Only one effort got past him, and that was when Lawrence Pilut let fly and dinged the top of the bar from the perimeter midway through the third frame.
With Sweden a little over two minutes away from its first World Championship blank since the 2016 quarter-final against Canada, Johan Garpenlov called a time-out and called goalie Adam Reideborn to the bench in favour of an extra attacker. However, Belarus lined up its tight-knit defence to close the door on Sweden and run down the clock on a famous victory.
Sweden has now been on the end of two surprise losses in a tournament stuffed with unexpected scores. Forward Oscar Lindberg dismissed the idea that there is a big distinction between the top teams and the outsiders at this level.
“There are no easy games anymore,” he said. “I think every game we’ve played since we started to prepare for this tournament has been tough. They’re all tough.
“The other teams can all score goals now and they play smart. Like today, we couldn’t get through. After they got that goal, they all just sank in together and clogged the middle. We couldn’t get through.”