Belarus came back from a two goal deficit to score four unanswered goals and defeat Slovakia 4-2 at Yubileiny Arena.
Andrei Stepanov’s third period goal gave Belarus its first lead of the game and one it would not relinquish. It was their first win of the tournament in four tries.
Coming into this afternoon, Belarus scored the second fewest goals at these World Championships and given up the most goals against. This game represented a big improvement in that Belarus put forward its best defensive effort to date. Belarus also offered a forecheck, offense creativity, solid goaltending, and timely scoring.
Yesterday, Slovakia did not play well, losing 5-1 to Germany. The loss was significant enough that it prompted head coach Zdeno Ciger to call out his team in the post game press conference.
“After this loss, I hope the team wakes up and starts to play disciplined and as a team again. I hope next game is a totally different game.”
Different team, sure, but another loss.
After winning their first two games of the 2016 World Championships, Slovakia is now in free fall having lost its last two.
“We played two good periods and then suddenly I don’t know – it’s like a different team out there.” Said a bewildered Sekera. “It’s a young, inexperienced team that has to pay for it. Guys need to learn that we need to play 60 minutes, not 40.”
In the first period, Slovakia allowed Belarus a two-man advantage. Goaltender Julius Hudacek was called for delay of game and Tomas Marcinko for tripping to allow the Belarus power play, ranked 12th out of 16 in this tournament, a chance at scoring.
Slovakia would kill these off with relative easy, demonstrating why they are tied for the third best penalty kill at this World Championship.
Despite a scoreless first, two penalties to end the period would prove crucial in getting Slovakia on the scoreboard. Geoff Platt and Roman Dyukov were both sent off for slashing at 19:21 and 30:00 respectively.
With the two-man advantage to start the second, Slovakia wasted no time in taking the lead. As he has in previous games, Andrej Sekera scored from the point. He whizzed a slapshot on net that went low and beneath Vitali Koval’s left pad at :47 of the middle frame.
At 16:26 Tomas Jurco tipped Juraj Mikus wrist shot and Slovakia was up 2-0 and comfortably in the driver’s seat. Or so it seemed.
Early in the third Belarus cut the lead in half when Kiril Gotovets put a shot on net that was mishandled by Julius Hudacek and then in the net.
“Certainly that first goal built so much momentum for us, just to get us on the board.” Platt said. “And then the floodgates opened for us, because we felt we could play. We didn’t sit back at all, which is really important. The confidence just built. That’s sport and that’s momentum. That happens, you know?”
In a frightening moment, Michal Sersen suffered an injury that required he be wheeled off on a stretcher in the third period. With the score still 2-1 Slovakia, the tone and tenor of the game changed after Sersen’s injury.
Belarus continued to press for a tie and got it when Artur Gavrus scored stick side to even the contest at two. It was a new game and Belarus was surging. Slovakia, on the other hand, was back on their heels. Gotovets and Yevgeni Kovyrshin picked up assists.
Stepanov then gave Belarus its first lead, which further excited the largely pro-Belarus crowd. Stepanov raced down the wing with the option to pass or shoot, opting to shoot.
Ciger tried to calm his team down by calling a timeout but it did not help.
Charles Linglet added his team’s fourth goal. For Linglet, it was his first ever World Championship taking a pass from Platt and going far side.
Belarus scored on four of its ten shots in the period.
After three subpar performances, Belarus found their game in the third period and now hope to carry the momentum when they face Germany.
“You know, I watched that game [between Germany and Slovakia] and I can’t say I was surprised by the Germans’ level, but I was impressed more than anything.” Platt offered. “We obviously took them very seriously before, but seeing the performance they put in against Slovakia, now we know the level we’re going to face and we have to respect that tremendously. They’re a club like us that’s looking to jump up rather than go backwards.”