For the second time in three years, Germany has defeated Switzerland in a quarter-final game in Riga and will play in the IIHF World Championship semi-finals. Jonas Muller recorded two assists and Mathias Niederberger stopped 29 of 30 shots for the 3-1 victory.
“It’s a pretty amazing feeling right now,” said German forward Justin Schutz. “We just said we have to play our game. We lost the first three games in the group stage, all close, then we won four straight. We have a lot of confidence. Our game is just good forechecks, hard on the guy, pucks deep, good in the D zone. That’s what we did today.”
It’s a bitter end to the tournament for what many believe is the best Swiss hockey team ever assembled. After winning their first six games in regulation – surrendering only six goals along the way – they closed out the group stage with an overtime loss to Latvia before bowing out in the quarter-finals.
“I don't know what happened,” said despondent Swiss defender Dean Kukan. “We had our chances but we couldn’t score. Our power play didn’t get going. They beat us. We had a great start in the first period, and then it was 1-1 and we had a five-minute power play and we didn't score.”
Two years ago, the Germans also entered the game as the fourth seed facing group-winner Switzerland. That game was decided in a shootout but Germany managed to win this game in regulation, thanks to two goals 36 seconds apart late in the second period.
Germany started strong and scored the first period’s only goal at 6:25, when Maximilian Kastner’s long shot off the rush squeezed through Robert Mayer’s pads and trickled over the goal line.
The Swiss did eventually start pushing back later in the opening period. They then tied the game in the first minute of the second period while pressuring hard in the German zone. Jonas Siegenthaler settled down a pass from Kevin Fiala, then shot from the top of the circle through a crowd that beat Mathias Niederberger to the glove side.
Switzerland then ran into some penalty trouble with a pair of high-sticking fouls – first a double minor to Andres Ambuhl and then a minor to Enzo Corvi – but the Germans failed to gain much offence. When the latter power play was cut short when star defenceman Moritz Seider was given a major penalty and a game misconduct for boarding, it could have spelled disaster for Germany.
However, the Germans killed off the major and then scored a pair of goals late in the middle frame. First John Peterka scored the go-ahead goal, taking a pass in the high slot from Dominik Kahun and beating a screened Mayer.
“Just an unreal play from Dominik finding me there,” Peterka described. “We saw it in pre-scout that the middle can be open against those guys, and then just dragged the puck a little bit and shot it in the net.”
Then with the Swiss back on the power play, the Germans scored a back-breaking shorthanded goal with 1:33 to play in the period. After winning a faceoff in their own zone, the puck was shot around the boards and out, creating a German 2-on-1. Wojciech Stachowiak nicely set up Nico Sturm for a one-timer that Mayer had little chance on.
“My goal gave us some power but then the goal from Nico is what changed everything around,” said Peterka.
“We know how the Germans play. It’s not our first game against them,” said Kukan. “We knew what to expect and handled it well, but we couldn’t score and then allowed some dumb goals against. We tried our hardest today but couldn't capitalize on our chances.”
In a desperate situation, the Swiss turned up the pressure in the third period. Midway through the period they had a great chance to close the gap when Corvi found Janis Moser with a backdroor pass but Moser couldn’t pull the trigger, then fell down without getting a shot away. Then Germany nearly put the game away when Moritz Muller’s point shot hit the post and Stachowiak, who got in behind Mayer, couldn’t tap in the bouncing puck.
The Swiss called a timeout and pulled Mayer with 2:44 to go, then had a 6-on-4 advantage for the last 49.7 seconds but to no avail.
“The people in Germany were like, let’s just make the quarter-finals, but we knew we could maybe do better,” said Schutz. “I think two weeks ago I would have said yes to the quarter-finals, but we knew today we could go to the semis, and we are. Now we want to win it all!”