PP sparks Czech comeback
by Derek O'Brien|27 MAY 2021
Jan Kovar (#43) had two points in the Czech Republic's 4-2 win over Sweden.
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images

Trailing 2-0 heading into the third period, the Czech Republic scored four goals in the third period, including three in a span of 7:07 and two on the power play, to beat Sweden 4-2 in a huge game for both teams smack dab in the middle of the group stage. Sparking the Czech offence was two points each from Jan Kovar and Dominik Kubalik and a huge goal from Jakub Vrana to get it started.  

“Our first line helped us last game as well, and obviously Jakub Vrana’s first goal turned the whole game around,” said Czech head coach Filip Pesan. “That’s why they get the big ice time but I would say the whole team worked as one group and that’s why we won.”

“Our last game was pretty good. We played our butts off,” said Swedish forward Par Lindholm. “This game was good, too, until they got those power plays and scored two goals. I think we should have won this game. In the first two games of the tournament, we didn’t play as well as we know we can, but since then we’ve shown how we are able to play.”

The Czechs got a great chance a minute in when Vrana redirected a pass with his skate to a streaking Jiri Sekac, who one-timed it just wide of the post as Adam Reideborn was sliding across. Then they went to the power play and had some good zone time but the Swedish penalty killers were adamant, blocking several shots. After being back on their heels for the first four minutes of the game, the Swedes went to work.

Simon Hrubec made some nice saves to keep the game scoreless, but Sweden broke through at 12:08 on the rush. Andreas Wingerli finished a nifty give-and-go with Max Friberg, putting a nice backhand touch on his return pass and directing the puck just inside the post.

Then the Swedes got their first power play and Rickard Rakell made it 2-0, taking a pass from Adrian Kempe in the slot and firing it high, glove side on Hrubec.

“Actually, we weren’t playing that bad,” Pesan said about the first two periods. “We were better than the last two games, but we were down two because they scored on a power play and another on a 2-on-1, so it was psychologically difficult.”

Sweden vs Czech Republic - 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
SWE CZE 27 MAY 2021

After getting very little going for most of the opening period, the Czechs had a much better second, particularly on their second power play when they tested Reideborn and Vrana hit the goalpost.

In fact, throughout the game, the power play seemed to be where the Czechs got things done. It didn’t yield any goals in the first two periods but that changed in the third when they scored three times in span of 7:07, with two of the goals with the man advantage.

“We had some chances on our first couple of power plays but we were in too close and they had a couple of great blocks, so we changed it a little bit and we scored some goals,” said Kovar, the top scorer in Switzerland's National League this season with EV Zug. 

A skirmish at the end of the second period resulted in multiple penalties and a third Czech power play, where they finally broke through. This time, Vrana made good on his chance, playing pitch-and-catch with Matej Stransky and firing a laser over Reideborn’s shoulder into the roof of the net.

“We entered the zone with good speed, moved the puck fast right on the tape, and I have to say the screen in front of the net by Stransky was amazing,” Vrana described. “The goalie couldn’t see anything so for me, it was all about that placement.”

At that point, the momentum seemed to shift. On the next rush, captain Kovar had a glorious chance but defenceman Jonathan Pudas kept the puck out of the net by knocking it away at the goal line. The Czechs kept coming though, and on yet another power play they tied it, with Kubalik finding Kovar in the slot for the one-timer at 44:53

And then they took the lead 3:23 later, this time at even strength. Off an attacking zone faceoff, Kovar fed Lukas Klok at the point, and he fired it through a crowd in front and beat a screened Reideborn.

Klok, who won a Finnish title this season with Lukko Rauma, described: “It was a good play by Kovy there on the faceoff and I was at the top of the faceoff circle and I saw that the shooting lane was open, and Kuba (Kubalik) was going to the net to make a screen and it went through, so I was happy.”

“The Czechs are a good team and if we’re going to win these types of hockey games, we’ve gotta be better on the penalty kill and make sure we’re better with the lead in the third period,” said Rakell.

Sweden got an opportunity when the Czechs were called for too many men on the ice but couldn't capitalize. Then Johan Garpenlov pulled his goalie with over three minutes to go but still they never seriously threatened, as it was now the Czechs' turn to block shots in front of their goalie.

“It was kind of like survival mode at the end,” said Kovar. “We were pretty strong defensively, blocking shots and that was the key to the victory.”

“I think we played pretty well today, but we took two penalties in the third, and they used them well to get back into the game,” said Wingerli. “They turned the momentum pretty quickly. Still, we had a couple of chances of our own in the third, but we couldn’t score.”

Jakub Flek put the game away with an empty-netter with 1:34 to play.

‚Äč“This game gives us some positive thoughts, some energy, but at the same time we have a lot of work in front of us,” said Vrana.

The third-period comeback drastically changes the outlook of both teams from here on out. Now with five points and having the group's stronger teams in their rear-view mirror, the Czechs' path to the quarter-finals seems in their hands. The Swedes, amazingly, are in last place in Group A with three points and will probably need to win out with still a game to play against ROC.

“We played two or three pretty good games and we lost, so we have to keep going and focus on our next games and try to get as many points as we can get,” said Wingerli. “Then we’ll see what happens after the group play.”

Sweden vs Czech Republic - 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship