Peter Cehlarik broke a scoreless tie with 12:47 remaining in regulation time, sparking Slovakia to a 2-0 victory over Denmark to move into a tie for first place in Group A.
With eight points, Cehlarik is now the tournament’s leading scorer, having started the day tied with Denmark’s Nicklas Jensen who, like the rest of his team, was held off the scoresheet.
“We knew what was coming up,” Cehlarik said about facing Denmark. “They play tight defence and try to make the most of our mistakes, but we stayed patient and we ended up getting the one we needed.”
Prior to Cehlarik’s goal, Sebastian Dahm had been the star of the game in goal for Denmark. He ultimately stopped 32 of 34 shots on the night. Julius Hudacek stopped all 24 shots he faced in the Slovak net, and Robert Lantosi and Marek Hrivik assisted on both Slovak goals.
Earlier in this tournament, Denmark famously fired four shots on the Swiss goal in a 1-0 loss, and at the start their offence was equally futile, as the Slovaks led 10-0 in shots past at the 11-minute mark of the first period. Like that game against Switzerland and other games, they played good team defence and Dahm held the fort.
“I think it’s a lack of respect for the other team if I’m criticizing my players who are working so hard,” said Danish head coach Heinz Ehlers. “They gave us a chance; our performance and our hard work gave us a chance to win this game tonight. We worked so hard to get our chances but we’re playing against a really good team. We have to respect that they are good. They all play on a higher level and that makes it difficult for us.”
The first period ended scoreless despite the Slovaks holding a wide edge in play. Their best scoring chance came on a clear-cut breakaway by Marian Studenic, who tried to go five-hole but Dahm gave him nothing.
The second period was even less eventful than the first. No penalties were assessed and Slovakia outshot Denmark 10-6, with no terrific scoring chances at either end of the rink. Markus Lauridsen was Denmark’s most dangerous offensive player with a couple decent chances in the first few minutes, and the Slovaks put on some pressure in the last minute.
“We’ve gotta give some credit to them,” said Danish forward Alexander True, who had two of his team’s 10 shots through two periods. “They’re really structured and they did a good job pressuring down low and getting chances. We tried coming at them but just couldn’t really find a way.”
“The first two periods, Denmark didn’t have so many shots,” said Hudacek. “They had a couple from angles, not too dangerous, but in the third period, they had a couple of chances that bounced of sticks. I just told myself, be ready for the next shot, and I knew sooner or later we’d score a goal.”
“He’s a professional hockey player,” Slovak coach Craig Ramsay said about his goaltender. “He bounced back, we played better as a team, and when we needed him, he stepped up and made the big saves.”
Both teams seemed to come out for the third period with a greater sense of urgency, wanting to win the game in regulation time. The Slovaks felt this was a game that they were out to win, and for the Danes, it was merely a case of survival – they need every point they can get. Three minutes into the period, there was another flurry around the Danish net and Dahm made a couple more saves.
Cehlarik started the play leading to the goal, carrying the puck into the zone and getting a shot that Dahm kicked to the corner. Cehlarik recovered that and ringed it around the boards to Robert Lantosi. From there, Lantosi sent the puck toward the net, where it was tipped in front by Marek Hrivik onto the stick of Cehlarik at the far post. Despite being checked, Cehlarik got the shot away that Dahm could only wave at helplessly.
“We went to the net, me and Marek, and good things happen when you go to the net,” Cehlarik duly noted.
Rather than sitting on their lead, the Slovaks went for the jugular. Two minutes after his goal, Cehlarik sent another dangerous shot on goal that Dahm had trouble with. Then with 7:35 to play, they went up 2-0 when Dahm stopped Lantosi in close but the rebound went all the way out to an unchecked defenceman Adam Janosik in the high slot, who made no mistake.
“We just got lucky that something went in,” said Ramsay. “They’re great defensively. They blocked a million shots and we couldn’t get the puck at the net. I thought they did a wonderful job at their end. Even when we controlled it, we were having a tough time finding someone open. In the third period, we finally got couple bounces the right way and we took advantage of them.”
The Danes had a chance to draw closer on a late power play and got some chances but Hudacek did his best work of the night. Ehlers pulled Dahm with more than a minute to go but the Slovaks kept the puck down in the Danish end for most of the last minute. The final faceoff was with just 0.9 seconds left to Hudacek’s left, at which point, the shutout was safe.
With the win, Slovakia moves into a tie with Team ROC for first place in Group A, holding the tiebreaker by winning the head-to-head meeting. The Slovaks have two games left in the group stage, starting with a quick turnaround against Sweden on Sunday.
“We’ve gotta get prepared. It’s a quick back-to-back tomorrow,” said Cehlarik. “Obviously they’ll come out hard, they need points, but we’ll try to play tight as a unit and I believe we can win.”
Despite the loss, the Danes are very much in the race but they will need to win their last game against the Czech Republic on Monday.
“We’ve got a day off tomorrow, so that’ll be good for us to get a little rest and I’m sure we’ll be ready for the Czech game,” said True.