World Championships 2008: Day Eight

Saturday, 10th May 2008
Friday afternoon saw Finland take on Latvia in Group F of the qualifying round.

The first period saw just about the most dominant 20 mins by any one team in the competitions history. Finland amassed 36 shots to Latvia’s 5. Finland had 6 powerplays and Masalskis in the Latvian goal must have thought he was wearing the puck. However, the score after 20 minutes read Finland 0 Latvia 1.

Despite hardly crossing the Finnish blue line at all, Latvia drew first blood as early as 1.27 gone. Lauris Darzins picked up a loose puck and sent an angled shot past Niklas Backstrom. Finland peppered the Latvian goal but were unable to find a way past the inspired backstopper.

The second period was far more normal and chances went begging at both ends before Finland finally beat Masalskis. On 29.21 Pihlstrom took a pass from ex Manchester Storm player Janne Niskala and raced in to beat the goalie stickside to make it 1-1. Finland were the better team in the third period and had numerous chances to put the game away. They did however break through with 10 minutes left as Kapanen wristed the winner past the distraught Masalskis. Latvia had an amazing chance to tie the game with 3 seconds left. Berezins, hovering around the creas had a wide open half of the net but Backstrom managed to get his stick across and pull the puck into his body. Finland had 64 shots in the game and 13 powerplays but only managed 2 goals. They will have to show a massive improvement if they are to be in the hunt for the medals at the end of next week.

Russia were another of the big boys who had trouble scoring despite heavily outshooting their opponents. They managed to have 18 shots on goal in the first period and still went to the first break 2-0 down. With 7.27 gone Belarus took the lead when Mikhalev to the pass from Grabovsky to score from the left face off circle. They doubled the lead 4 mins later as Federov turned the puck over in the corner allowing Dudik to pick up the puck and score glove side. That was it for the scoring in the first and Belarus went to the locker room dreaming of a shock result.

Russia pulled a goal back on 23.54 as Afinogenov pushed a rebound off Morozov’s point shot through Koval’s five hole. Koval continued to stymie all Russian efforts including an amazing save from Ovechkin. Belarus, thanks to Koval went to the second break with a 2-1 lead.

Ovechkin finally got an equaliser with 48.21 on the clock as he wristed the puck from the face off circle high and handsome past Koval. Belarus defended resolutely but could do nothing with 6.09 left on the clock. Afinogenov skated past the net to pick up an Ovechkin rebound and slide it over the goal line. Russia eased off thinking they now had broken the Belarus resistance but with just less than 4 minutes left, Belarus equalised when Grabovsky found Ugarov driving the net, and the latter picked the puck up in his stride to blast it past Koval for 3-3. End of regulation and now into overtime. Russia had the best of the chances in overtime and Kovalchuk should have got the winner early into overtime but could get only little contact on the puck and the chance had gone. End of overtime and a penalty shoot out for the first time in World Championship history in the qualifying games.

Belarus went first as Sergei Kostitsyn took on Biryukov and missed.

Mozyakin, top scorer in the Russian league this season was next up and he beat Kovalev through the five hole. Meleshko scored for Belarus by going high on the backhand and Morozov restored the Russian lead as he did exactly the same. It was down to Ugarov to keep Belarus in the game but Biryukov saved on the backhand.

Russia win but Belarus can take great credit for running their illustrious neighbours so close.

The relegation series has changed this season and instead of a 4 team round robin to decide 2 relegation places, the teams finishing bottom of the preliminary round groups will contest a best of 3 series with the winners retaining their World Group status and the losers into Division 1 next season.

Perennial relegation round experts Slovenia duly took their place again, but nobody expected Slovakia to be their opponents. Slovakia dominated from the off and scored after 2.58 on a two man advantage. Visnovsky’s shot from the point was tipped goalwards by Marcel Hossa bringing a superb save from Kristan. However the puck landed on Petrovicky’s stick and he pushed the rubber into the open net. Despite dominating the rest of the period, that was it for goals. 1-0 end of the first.

Slovakia took complete control in the second period and 4 goals settled the tie. 7 minutes into the period a two on one for the Slovaks as Kolnik and Hossa drove the zone. Kolnik held the puck until Kristan committed then passed to Hossa who swept it into the empty net. Four minutes later it was 3-0 with a similar goal. This time Visnovsky skated in from the right and backhanded the puck right on to the tape of the rushing Podkonicky who only had to help the puck into the net past a stranded Kristan. Slovenia, not renowned for being high scorers got one back three minutes later as Robar beat Lasek with a backhander through traffic to make the score 3-1. Any hope of a Slovenian comeback was dashed as Slovakia scored two goals in less than two minutes towards the end of the period. Goals from Kollar and Ciernik made it 5-1 and game over. The battle weary Kristan was replaced by Hocevar for the remainder of the game to keep the number one fresh for tomorrow’s do or die effort from Slovenia.

The game petered out in the third as Slovakia eased off and Slovenia decided to rest up for tomorrow’s second game.

The second relegation match was between France and Italy. Both teams will be anxious to win this encounter as next years championships will be in neighbouring Switzerland. France started the more nervous and took 3 penalties in quick succession. Italy took advantage on the third one as De Bettin and Borgatello weaved through the French defence and Jonathan Pittis blasted the puck past Huet. Just 37 seconds later Strazzabosco took a tripping penalty to give France their first advantage. 32 seconds later the score was 1-1 as a wrist shot from Trevisani beat Gunther Hell who was unsighted by heavy traffic in front of him. That ended the scoring for the first period and both teams would be happy at 1-1.

The second period was nip and tuck and France scored the only goal 30 seconds before the end. Amar took a pass from Zwikel from behind the net and hit a one-timer past Hell for the go ahead goal.

France took control of the early part of the final period and settled the game with 10 minutes remaining. Luca Ansoldi hit the box on a tripping penalty and 40 seconds later Amar shot from the blue line and as Hell lost the puck, Bordeleau lifted the rebound over the keeper for 3-1. Italy pressed for the remaining 9 minutes but could only manage one goal as they pulled Hell for the extra man. Armin Helfer scored with 7 seconds left. Italy must now regroup for tomorrow’s second game to crack the French and take the tie to a decider on Tuesday.

With two games left in the qualifying round Group E is all but decided as far as qualifiers are concerned with Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and Czech Republic all but through. The remaining two games will decide the pecking order and their quarter final opponents. Group F is much the same as Canada, USA, Finland and Norway likely qualifiers.

More tomorrow

Jim "Tambo" Piper

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