Filip Chytil scored the shootout winner as the Czech Republic defeated Denmark 2-1. The Czechs, after losing their first two group games to ROC and Switzerland, have rebounded with four straight wins. Denmark is eliminated from quarter-finals contention.
With 10 points, the Czechs moved into fourth place in Group A prior to the late game between the ROC team and Sweden, which has nine points. The Czechs have one game remaining against neighbouring rival Slovakia on Tuesday. Coach Filip Pesan's team entered the home stretch needing at least four points in its last two games in order to make the playoffs.
"It’s going to be a totally different game because Slovakia plays fast hockey, which suits us more than this total defence," said Pesan. "We weren’t patient enough today, but tomorrow’s going to be a better game for us."
The Danes, who returned to the top division in 2003, previously made the quarter-finals twice (2010, 2016).
Chytil's winner came on a nice forehand deke against goalie Mads Sogaard. On the final two shots of the shootout, both starting goalies, bizarrely, were replaced in their nets.
Denmark's Sebastian Dahm, who dazzled with 37 saves on the night, came out and the towering Mads Sogaard came in for his first, very brief action of the tournament. In a similar vein, the Czech Republic's Simon Hrubec was replaced by Roman Will, who foiled Niklas Andersen's final attempt. In total, the Czechs scored four times in the shootout and the Danes three times.
Danish coach Heinz Ehlers talked about his unorthodox decision to insert Sogaard, who debuted with the AHL's Belleville Senators this year: "I guess it doesn't really happen that often, but it was just a quick reaction from the bench. We had to do everything in our power and I thought maybe getting in a bigger goalie might be an advantage for us. But the Czech guys were too skilled."
Morten Poulsen praised Dahm: "Incredible tournament for him. Man of the Match for our team again today. He's always trying to get better. I'm sure he'll look at some of the penalty shots and try to find a way to stop them next time. But without him, today we wouldn't have stood a chance."
Meanwhile, Pesan commented on his goalie change: "It crossed my mind before the other coach did the same thing. I wanted to change the goalie because after their three goals, we needed to take a chance a little bit, so I did it, and, you know, you’re either a hero or a zero. That’s how it works."
In regulation time, Dominik Kubalik scored for the Czechs. For Denmark, Nicklas Jensen scored his fifth goal of these Worlds, tying him for the overall tournament lead.
Dahm became the only goalie to start all seven preliminary round games for his team. Hrubec, who backstopped Avangard Omsk to the 2021 KHL title, played his fifth game for the Czech Republic. Final shots favoured the Czechs 39-13.
Momentum swung toward the Czechs as the first period wore on, with Denmark going into a defensive shell. On a late man advantage with Matias Lassen off for hooking, the Czechs blitzed Dahm’s net but couldn’t break through.
"It’s always frustrating when you can’t score," Kubalik said. "But you know what? You gotta make it simple. Just get bodies there and keep shooting. But we didn’t do that enough and I think that’s our problem. So we’ve got to learn the lesson from the game and be better next time."
The second period provided more of the same, with Pesan’s team relentlessly trying to pop Denmark’s bubble. They couldn’t cash in after Danish captain Jesper Jensen Aabo took a weird penalty for knocking off the helmet of Jakub Flek, who was chasing him. After the power play, Flek got a quick odd-man break but Dahm foiled his high shot.
In the third period, Kubalik finally solved Dahm, taking Chytil's cross-ice pass and banging it into the open side on the doorstep for the equalizer at 5:23.
Chytil described the play: "I saw Dominik with the puck and he gave it to me. I tried to go inside and shoot and it got blocked, but it ended up right on Jakub Vrana’s stick, and he gave it back to me. I saw Dominik at the back door and I just gave it to him."
The Danish goalie continued to give his team a chance, coming across to rob Kubalik with a glove grab on a glorious chance a few minutes later. Hrubec, far less busy, countered by robbing Niklas Andersen at point-blank range after a Czech giveaway on his first save of the period with about eight minutes left in regulation.
With just 2:17 left in regulation, Jensen Aabo was sent off for a careless high-stick. But yet again, Denmark weathered the storm.
In overtime, with 1:56 left, Frederik Storm was sent off for high-sticking and the Czechs called their timeout to strategize before the power play. After intense pressure, Filip Hronek thought he had scored the winner on a powerful one-timer from the left faceoff circle.
With their tournament on the line, the Danes disputed the play, saying Kubalik entered the zone offside. After a lengthy video review, the goal was waved off and more than a minute was added back on the clock. The Czechs moved the puck around nicely but couldn't cash in.
"It was very tough emotionally," Pesan said. "We played against a very defensive team and we needed to win. We were playing for the extra point, and then we won the game, then we didn’t win the game, then we kept going in the shootout. I’m happy but exhausted."
This rivalry has gotten much tighter in recent years. In eight all-time meetings, the Czechs won the first four in regulation. But the last four have gone to shootouts, and Denmark prevailed the last two times. Mikkel Boedker had the historic 4-3 winner on 17 May 2014 and Nikolaj Ehlers was the hero in a 2-1 win on 15 May 2016.
Jensen Aabo summed up Denmark's tournament: "I think we were in a really tough group this year. We only had one game we maybe should’ve taken three points from, against Great Britain. We beat Sweden for the first time ever. We played good games against Switzerland, Russia and the Czechs. We’re a small nation, so there were some really good results. Good tournament, I’m really proud of this team."