The dynamic 18-year-old Slafkovsky, who led the 2022 Beijing Olympics with seven goals and was named MVP in Slovakia's bronze medal run, now has two goals and five points in Helsinki. He is considered a contender to be drafted first overall in the 2022 NHL Draft.
Of his penalty shot goal in the second period, Slafkovsky explained: "I was thinking about Peter Cehlarik's shootout in the Olympics [to give Slovakia a 3-2 quarter-final win over the U.S.]. I remember that he told me that backhand, forehand should be 90 percent chance of a goal, and I just did that."
Adam Liska also had a goal and an assist, and Martin Fehervary and Andrej Kollar added singles for Slovakia. The Slovaks finished eighth last year in Riga under head coach Craig Ramsay.
Both teams saw their tepid power plays come to life, each side capitalizing twice with the man advantage.
"It's really important," Feherary said of the win. "We were kind of stressed a little bit in the first and third period. But honestly, we just had to win this one. I felt like the second period was really important for us and the power play stepped up, so it's really huge."
For Kazakhstan, Kirill Pankyukov had a pair of goals, and Dmitri Shevchenko also tallied.
"Obviously we've got to stay out of the penalty box," said Kazakh assistant captain Curtis Valk. "That's kind of been our Kryptonite in this tournament so far."
Slovak goalie Adam Huska had his ups and downs, but managed to get the three points against his acrobatic Kazakh counterpart Andrei Shutov. Shots favoured Slovakia 34-17.
"After the first period, we were down 2-1," Huska said. "And basically, we said in the locker room that we have to start skating and chasing the puck more. We came out flying in the second period, scored [three] goals, and it was really good."
Coming in, the Slovaks had lost three consecutive games in regulation to Germany, Canada, and Switzerland. The only win for the 2022 Olympic bronze medalists was the 4-2 opener over France. So this is a boost to Slovakia's quarter-final aspirations.
Slovakia's next game is against winless Italy on Saturday, while Kazakhstan tangles with Germany on Sunday.
However, the towering Viktor Svedberg was out of the lineup. The Swedish-born former member of the Chicago Blackhawks had been averaging 20:15 of ice time per night, third-highest among Kazakh skaters.
"It's a tough loss with Viktor," Valk said. "He's a good player, a big part of our D corps. Having Darren back is huge, obviously. He helps our power play a lot and he's a great player. It's kind of a tough trade off, having one and not the other. It would have been nice to have them both, but we've got to do what we've got to do with the guys we've got going forward. "
The Kazakhs were coming off a 6-3 loss to defending champion Canada on Thursday. That game started at 21:30 – rather than the originally scheduled start time of 20:20 – and ended at 23:51. The delay was due to a fire at the Helsinki Ice Hall (Jaahalli) before the early game, which required an arena evacuation and the summoning of emergency staff. The fire was put out and no one was injured.
Of course, it all meant a somewhat quicker turnaround than expected for coach Yuri Mikhailis’s team.
Slovakia came out hard and stormed Shutov’s net. Less than four minutes in, the officials video-reviewed a sequence where Simon Nemec and Michal Kristof rang the puck off posts in rapid succession, but the disc did not cross the line and the game continued scoreless.
At 12:12, the Slovak fans at Jaahalli went bananas when Kollar opened the scoring. Samuel Takac intercepted an errant Kazakh pass in the right faceoff circle and sent a wonderful cross-ice pass to Koll, who cashed in from the doorstep.
Kazakhstan’s Pavol Akolzin got under Slovakia’s skin with a stiff hit on Milos Roman behind Huska’s net and continued to run around. Kristian Pospisil retaliated with a cross-check by the Slovak bench on the same sequence and took the game’s first penalty.
With 4:43 left in the first period, Kazakhstan evened the score on that man advantage. Huska stopped Jesse Blacker’s long shot but couldn’t control the rebound and Panyukhov fired it home with authority.
When Pospisil took a boarding penalty, the Kazakhs exploited their opportunity again. They grabbed a 2-1 lead with 2:01 left in the first period. Huska surrendered another juicy rebound off the rush, and Shevchenko cannily pounced, lifting a backhander past the Slovak goalie’s stick side.
Kazakh captain Roman Starchenko earned his first point of the tournament on the play. The 36-year-old veteran is competing in his seventh top-level Worlds. His first one was in 2006 in Latvia.
In the second, Akolzin's rough play caught up with him. The Metallurg Magnitogorsk foward was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for charging. It came on a nasty hit on Jakub Minarik in front of the Kazakh bench, which the officials video-reviewed. It proved costly.
At 9:47, Fehervary tied the score at 2-2, stepping into a huge blast that tipped off Dietz's outstretched stick and eluded Shutov.
On the same five-minute power play, Kristof fired a magnificent stretch pass to Liska, who avoided Kazakh backchecking to speed in alone and tuck a backhand past the goalie for a 3-2 lead at 13:18.
"I think that five minute PK was kind of a turning point of the game," said Valk. "You can't give up two goals like that and take a penalty right afterwards for a penalty shot."
Slafkovsky electrified the already-jacked Slovak fans when he deked past multiple defenders on a solo rush and was hooked at the last moment, drawing a penalty shot at 14:26. The 18-year-old phenom made no mistake, powering in to beat Shutov high to the stick side. Slafkovsky raised his hand high to salute his supporters.
"It's so great," Slafkovsky said of the Slovak fans. "Like, there is a little chance and then they go crazy. It's so good when you hear cheering for your country, and that feeling when you know there are more Slovak fans than the other team has."
There was no quit in the Kazakhs. At 3:32 of the third, Orekhov's pass from the side boards found Panyukov in the middle, and his stealthy deflection surprised Huska, catching the top corner to make it 4-3.
But that was as close as the former Soviet republic would get, despite pulling Shutov for the extra man with a minute and a half left. Concerns about relegation are growing.
"Our compete level's there," Valk said. "Obviously we're in games. A lot of them have been one-goal games. But we've got to find a way to win. Find a way to score a few more goals, help our goalie out a bit. That's kind of the key going forward."
Slovakia maintained its perfect head-to-head record versus Kazakhstan in World Championship play with its fifth straight win, dating back to 2005. In Olympic competition, Kazakhstan edged the Slovaks 4-3 in 1998 in Nagano, but Slovakia retaliated in 2006 in Turin, winning 2-1.