Both of Kazakhstan's previous wins came in the shootout, 3-2 over Latvia and 2-1 over defending champion Finland. The Kazakhs have played smart, tactical hockey throughout these Worlds. They've never finished higher than 12th (2005), but with seven points, they're giving themselves a great shot at the quarter-finals.
"Our goal was to play in the quarter-finals, and the way we are playing, we’re happy with how things are going," Akolzin said. "We were expecting to win some games, and that’s what we’re doing."
Coach Toni Soderholm’s team placed sixth at the last IIHF World Championship in 2019. This was a surprising setback for the Germans after scoring 17 goals en route to victory in their first three games.
"We didn't play our best hockey today," Soderholm said. "We played okay in the second period when we played a little bit quicker, but didn't get going the way we wanted to. We saw the forecheck that we were expecting from Kazakhstan and they played very committed. We didn't pressure enough to get the tempo as high in the game as we wanted."
Both sides stuck with their starting goalies in a duel between Kazakhstan's Nikita Boyarkin and Germany's Matthias Niederberger. Boyarkin stepped up as shots favoured Germany 30-15.
Assessing his team's performance, budding German star defenceman Moritz Seider said: "I think we're talking about 40 good minutes. We have to simplify our game a little bit. I think we can go a little bit more north, a lot of times a little bit faster. Move the puck, challenge their D, and keep them on their heels. I think if we keep that in mind, we're really hard to beat. But first of all, congrats to our opponent."
Germany’s Korbinian Holzer, who entered this game with a +5 plus-minus rating to lead all defencemen, took the game’s first penalty, but his team weathered the storm with more of the shot-blocking that served them so well in the 3-1 upset over Canada. Germany had better pressure during its first man advantage with Anton Sagadeyev off for hooking, but couldn’t capitalize.
At 6:39 of the second period, Kazakhstan’s Alexander Shin drew first blood on the rush. He took a drop pass from Stepanenko and blew a slapper down the middle over Niederberger’s glove. This was Kazakhstan’s first regulation-time lead of the tournament.
"We really capitalized on our chances, which is important," said Kazakhstan's Viktor Svedberg, who returned from a one-game suspension for cross-checking Finland's Jere Innala. "That’s key to our success. We try to play solid, not give up too many chances in the slot, and, when we get our chances, to capitalize."
Germany struck back three minutes later with two long-time NHLers joining forces. Tobias Rieder busted in over the Kazakh blue line, drawing multiple defenders to him, and backhanded the puck to Tom Kuhnhackl on the left side. Kuhnhackl blasted a rising slap shot past the kneeling Boyarkin’s glove side for his second goal of these Worlds.
Coming down right wing, Matthias Plachta thought he’d given Germany its first lead when he surprised Boyarkin with a quick snap shot from the top of the faceoff circle. The Kazakhs promptly challenged the play as offside, however, and the goal was erased.
Germany was undaunted, as Markus Eisenschmid capitalized at 14:07 on a German power play off Stefan Loibel’s set-up. However, the Kazakhs challenged it again, claiming defenceman Moritz Seider – the catalyst on the play – had created an offside with his pass to Loibl coming in over the blue line. This time, the refs ruled in Germany's favour, and Kazakh head coach Yuri Mikhailis, assessed a delay-of-game penalty, sent his son Nikita to the box.
Recapping his goal, Eisenschmid said: "It was a great rush by Mo, great dish to the outside. We try to come with speed on the power play breakout. Gave it outside to Loibl and he showed great patience. I just tried to open up in the slot, got a pass, and tried to surprise the goalie with a quick release. It went in."
In the first minute of the third period, Kazakhstan tied it up on a penalty shot. German captain Moritz Muller tripped up Akolzin, who was breaking into the clear. For the penalty shot, Mikhailis picked captain Roman Starchenko, who scored in the shootout versus Finland. Starchenko made no mistake, going five-hole on Niederberger.
"I felt personally responsible for poor play because I took a penalty that led to their second goal," Akolzin said. "I couldn’t even watch Roman Starchenko’s penalty shot because I was so nervous. Thanks to him for scoring!"
Akolzin got loose again on a super stretch pass from defenceman Alexei Maklyukov, and this time nobody was touching him. He zipped a low shot past Niederberger with 4:18 left to make it 3-2.
Seeking the equalizer, the Germans called their timeout with under two minutes remaining and pulled Niederberger for the extra attack. Coach Mikhailis smartly used his timeout at 19:11 to give his troops a breather after an icing call, and Kazakhstan hung on.
This was the fourth all-time World Championship meeting between these nations. Germany defeated Kazakhstan 4-2 in 2004 in the Czech Republic, lost 2-1 in 2005 in Austria, and won 2-1 in a shootout in 2014 in Belarus.
These teams will both face 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship finalists next. Kazakhstan takes on Canada on Friday, while Germany confronts Finland on Saturday.
Looking ahead to Finland, Seider said: "A lot of big guys, skilled forwards, heavy D's. A fast team. But we don't have to underrate ourselves. I think we can be confident in our abilities. It will be a fun matchup and we will definitely bounce back and get the W there."