Saturday’s evening game was almost certain to decide the relegation issue. If Serbia lost, it was doomed to finish bottom of the table and return to Division IIA, whence it won promotion in 2019. But a regulation time victory would guarantee survival regardless of what Estonia could do against Ukraine in its final game tomorrow. Only a Serbian overtime win could keep the question alive overnight.
Estonia, meanwhile, had its sights on greater rewards. After competitive performances in defeat against Poland and Japan, the Baltic state could still secure a second bronze medal in three championships if it won its two remaining games.
That inspired a fast start, with Vasjonkin opening the scoring after 93 seconds. The Polish-based forward got his first of the tournament when he had the final touch on Silver Kerna’s point shot. And it was 2-0 in the sixth minute as Kulintsev found the net. Having allowed 25 goals in three previous games, Serbia was in danger of another lopsided loss.
But this time there was an immediate response. Estonia took a penalty and Djumic needed nine seconds to convert the power play. That was his, and Serbia’s, third goal of the tournament. Estonia continued to have the better of the play, but the teams were separated by a solitary goal at the first intermission.
That partly explains why Rooba criticized his team's "worst performance" of the tournament.
"To be honest we played a really bad game as a team," he said. "We were nervous and we couldn’t really handle the pressure because we understood that the loser of this game is going to go down. I think we weren’t at our best today. But to win with a bad game, that’s actually a good thing."
That gave some reassurance, something sorely needed on a roster that features 11 World Championship rookies. That inexperience goes a long way to explaining how the team produced such contrasting performances in its first two encounters - stubborn defence against Poland, than a crazy 5-7 loss against Japan.
"They were two very different games," said Rooba. "But we gave ourselves a chance to win in each of them. I think they were both better than today.
"We haven't played a good 60 minutes yet, and Sunday against Ukraine has to be the day. There's no pressure on us, we're back in this group for next year and we have to take the good things from all the games and believe in ourselves."
Early in the third period, Estonia extended its lead. Serbia struggled to clear its lines after repeated waves of offence, and eventually Parras exacted punishment when he picked up a loose puck in centre ice and advanced to shoot past Arsenije Rankovic.
The game was settled and Estonia came close to adding a fifth when Robert Arrak hit the bar on a power play in the closing stages. However, the last words went to Serbia. First Djukic when he got a second goal in the closing minutes, then he had a penalty shot 25 seconds before the hooter, but was unable to beat Villem-Henrik Koitmaa for a third time.
Despite returning to Division IIA, Serbia's captain Nemanja Vucurevic felt that there were good things to take from the week.
"We're a young team so it's especially important that guys get to feel this level and compete here," he said. "We showed some good play, maybe even better than we thought we could, but it's not enough and we weren't consistent."
With the pre-tournament camp limited to just 10 days, and several key players forced into quarantine during that time, preparations were far from ideal. But Vucurevic hopes to see the team bounce back fast.
"We have to stick together. This is a young team and we have a great atmosphere," he said. "That's a positive, it gives us encouragement for the future. We can stick together, stick to our plans but we also have to be honest and say that we have to be better to stay at this level.
"I hope we can come back here as soon as possible and be better."