Victor Olofsson’s power-play goal with 8:22 to play broke a 1-1 tie and, after an empty-netter, Sweden escaped with a 3-1 win and three points they desperately needed in their ongoing chase for a quarter-final berth.
“We stayed patient throughout the game,” said Olofsson. “It was a tight game. We just had to be patient when we were down. We are very happy with the result.”
In his World Championship debut, Slovak goalie Adam Huska stopped 26 of 28 shots, while Adam Reideborn stopped 29 of 30 for Sweden.
“I think it was a really good game,” said Hruska, the 24-year-old New York Rangers prospect. “It was pretty close the whole game and obviously, I was a little bit nervous at the start but then I tried to play my game and I think I played pretty well.”
“I thought he played very well,” his coach, Craig Ramsay, agreed. “He’s a big man and he’s practised hard. I wanted to give Hudy (Libor Hudacek) a rest and I thought it was a good opportunity to put him in against a really good team. He wants to be there and I think the team is very confident with him there.”
Slovakia outshot Sweden 10-6 in the first period and seemed to get most of the period’s better scoring opportunities, although there was nothing spectacular. Like the game against Denmark, it was beginning to look like another game where they’d come away empty. However, in the last minute, Cehlarik threw the puck at the net from the boards and Reideborn misplayed it with his blocker into his own net with 52.5 showing on the clock.
“We tend not to shoot unless we think we can score but I think it’s important to put pucks on the net,” said Ramsay. “We need to put more pucks on the net and give the goalie an opportunity to make a mistake or get a bounce. Our goal wasn’t a shot that was going in the net.”
“When they scored at the end of the period that was tough for us,” said Swedish coach Johan Garpenlov. “We thought we could play much, much better and in the second and third periods we got the emotions up, we competed harder and played more together as a team in a way we should do if we want to win games.”
The Swedes tied it just past the game’s midpoint on a strange play. Marcus Sorensen’s initial shot hit the side of the net and then the end boards, where it was recovered by Max Friberg. Friberg attempted a centring pass but it hit a Slovak stick and popped into the air, bounced off Huska’s shoulder and in front of the net. Several players from both teams tried to knock the airborne puck one way or the other and it eventually bounced into the net.
The referee emphatically signalled goal but the Slovaks claimed it was batted in with a hand. Following video review, the goal stood and was credited to Friberg.
The goal seemed to spark the Swedes, who to that point in the game hadn’t seemed to play with the urgency that their situation required. A short time later, they were strong on the transition and Richard Rackell led a dangerous rush, with Huska making a big save. Sweden held the edge in play for the rest of the middle period, save for a two-minute stretch when they were shorthanded.
“Slovakia started better than us and came out hard in the first period and we came back strong in the second and kind of took over,” said Olofsson. “We worked our way back to the game and had some great goaltending.”
Early in the third period, 17-year-old Juraj Saflovsky hit the outside of the goalpost with a shot from the left wing, but otherwise the first half of the third period was played rather conservatively. That changed when Adam Janosik was called for interference with 9:54 to play.
“I had a couple chances but I didn’t score a goal,” said Saflovksy. “So I should be sad but I have to keep going and we all have to keep going because we’re trying to make the quarter-finals. That’s our goal.”
Their previous two power plays hadn’t looked terribly dangerous, but both Swedish units looked sharper this time and moved the puck around the Slovak zone with a purpose. Finally, Victor Olosson sent a wrist shot from the point through a crowd in front and over the left shoulder of Huska, who didn’t catch sight of the puck until too late.
“The guys were really good on the PK, they blocked so many shots and it was too bad for us because the one I didn’t see,” sighed Huska.
Trailing for the first time in the game, it was now Slovakia’s turn to push offensively and their pressure drew a power play they didn’t score on. But then with just over a minute to go, with the Swedes trying to kill of the remaining time in the Slovak zone, Jesper Froden was called for tripping far from his own net, giving the Slovaks one last gasp.
“They had a couple of shifts in our zone, but we had good defence, good forwards,” said Reideborn. “They had a couple of good shifts but we played really well throughout the game.”
However, it was a shorthanded empty-net goal by Isac Lundestrom that put the game away with 13 seconds to go.
This was the penultimate game of the group stage for both teams. While the win is big, Sweden’s work isn’t finished. They still need to beat Team ROC tomorrow night.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” said Garpenlov. “The Russian team is very good, they have a lot of good players here. It’s one game. We have a good chance if we play our best hockey to win against Russia.”
Meanwhile, Slovakia has a day off before a showdown with their familiar rivals from the Czech Republic on Tuesday in a game that could have huge implications for both teams.
“We lost two pre-tournament games against them, but that doesn’t matter,” said Saflovsky. “Now is the right time to win and get back at them for what they did to us.”