Saturday, May 12, 2012
It's been quite an exciting 48 hours at the 2012 IIHF World Championships. First, the United States threw away a point by allowing winless Kazakhstan to take them to overtime on Friday morning. Fortunately for the Americans and their fans, they managed to score the game winner with less than 30 seconds remaining in overtime and avoid the unpredictable shootout.
Meanwhile, the Czech Republic was defeating overmatched Italy at the same time by a score of 6-0 in Group S play.
After a break, the evening games got underway, featuring two fine matchups that frankly should have been slotted in for the final day of group play based on the pre-tournament rankings.
In their game with Canada, Finland led 2-0 after one period and 3-1 at the halfway point of the game. Canada then got goals from John Tavares and Jeff Skinner to even the game by the second intermission.
After trailing for over a half an hour, Canada finally had their first lead at the 6:04 mark of the third and added an empty net goal in the final 30 seconds to ruin the host Finland's perfect record and take first place in the group.
Meanwhile in Stockholm, Sweden scored first in their game with Russia at 5:57 before Alexander Popov tied it at at 10:27. Sweden's Henrik Zetterberg (at 14:33 of the first) and his Detroit Red Wings teammate Johan Franzen (at 9:36 of the second) pushed Sweden out to a 3-1 lead, but the second half of the game was a disaster for Sweden, as Evgeny Malkin's goal at he sixteen minute mark was followed by Alexi Yemelin's equalizer at 18:27, just like Canada's comeback in Helsinki.
It would take Russia only 15 seconds of the third period to surge ahead, a lead added to by Malkin at 2:40. He completed his hat trick at 11:08 and another goal just after the expiration of a power play with just under a minute to go make the final score 7-2 as the home team fell with a mighty thud for the second time after leading by two at the half way point of the game.
Today's first game had favored Slovakia defeat Belarus 5-1 followed by a surprise, as Norway had three even strength goals in support of goalkeeper Lars Haugen, who shut out Latvia 3-0 to leapfrog them for the final playoff spot in Group S.
Perhaps the biggest upset of the tournament to date came next, as the French got out to a 2-0 lead before Switzerland tied the game with a pair of goals by Damien Brunner in under two minutes. The turning point came early in the third period, as Goran Bezina was sent off for checking to the head, giving France a power play, during which they scored twice in 44 seconds to give them all the margin they would need as they turned the game over to NHL veteran Christobal Huet who made 41 saves for the win.
Germany fell behind 1-0 to Denmark but came back to win 2-1 in their Group S game to keep Denmark winless and give each team 5 games played up to this point.
The two late games were one sided affairs, as Canada avoided the same effort which cost the United States as they romped to an 8-0 win over Kazakhstan and Sweden downed Italy 4-0 to rebound from their second half collapse against Russia.
Group H sees Canada (with an extra game played) atop the group with 16 points, followed by Finland at 12. The United States has 10 points and is trailed bySlovakia at 9 in the final playoff position. France and Switzerland are tied at 6 points, both with a 2-3 record, but both with games against Slovakia still remaining as a key opportunity to claim the final playoff spot.
Belarus has 3 points from their win over Kazakhstan, who look to have relegation in their future, as they have just 1 point and only a final game against Finland remaining which they must win in regulation to have any hope of survival.
The Group S standings favor Russia, who has 15 points and a win and a game in hand over Sweden, also at 15. The Czech Republic are looking very secure with 11 points in third, but Norway is engaged in a real battle for the all-important fourth position.
Norway has 7 points, closely followed by Latvia and Germany with 6. A key games for those three include Norway and Germany facing off on Sunday.
In the relegation struggle, Italy holds the edge with 2 points over Denmark's 1. The Danes have chances to add points with games remaining with Latvia and Norway, while Italy has a lone game remaining with powerhouse Russia. Assuming Italy falls in regulation, just getting to overtime twice would allow Denmark to remain in the top division for 2013.