International Ice Hockey Federation

Ekman-Larsson the hero

Czechs get four in third, but rally falls short

Published 01.05.2015 23:30 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Ekman-Larsson the hero
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 1: Sweden's Victor Rask #49 celebrates with Elias Lindholm #28, Mattias Ekholm #14 and teammates after a second period goal against the Czech Republic's Alexander Salak #53 during preliminary round action at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Oliver Ekman-Larsson got the shootout winner as Sweden blew a 4-2 third-period lead but beat the Czechs 6-5 to send the host team's fans home disappointed.

It was an intense, thrilling tilt, and the Czechs showed a never-say-die attitude, tallying four third-period goals. But the Swedes capitalized on Czech mistakes. Coach Vladimir Ruzicka's squad seemed to suffer from nerves at times in front of the charged-up Prague crowd of 17,383.

Joel Lundqvist, Staffan Kronwall, Victor Rask, Joakim Lindstrom and Mattias Sjogren scored in regulation time for Sweden.

"The game wasn’t our best, but I think we battled hard and that’s the biggest key," said Sweden's Filip Forsberg.

Jaromir Jagr, Tomas Hertl, Dominik Simon, Roman Cervenka, and Martin Zatovic replied for the Czech Republic. Captain Jakub Voracek had two assists.

Jhonas Enroth, who backstopped Sweden to home-ice gold and was named Best Goalie in 2013, got the start in net. For the Czechs, Sibir Novosibirsk netminder Alexander Salak did the honours in lieu of Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets. The Czechs outshot Sweden 28-25, and there were good chances aplenty for both sides.

"Hockey is a funny game," said Enroth. "I guess that’s why you never know what’s going to happen."

If there’s a silver lining here for disappointed Czech supporters, it may be that the last time the tournament was held here in 2004, their stacked team won six straight round-robin games before falling 3-2 to the upstart Americans in the quarter-finals. Sometimes facing a little early adversity actually pays dividends. This loss could be a wake-up call.

"We got some goals at the end but we gave up too many as well," said Simon. "All we can do is learn from our mistakes and play better next game."

Neither side spared itself physically in the early going. Voracek threw a big hit in the Swedish zone on the first shift, setting the tone.

Coach Par Marts's boys drew first blood at 3:23 as the Czechs broke down defensively. Martin Erat threw the puck away in his own zone, putting it to Ondrej Nemec on the side boards as the defenceman went for a change. Jacob Josefson picked it up and sent it to Sjogren, whose nice cross-ice pass was one-timed home by Lundqvist.

Erat also got the game’s first penalty for hooking on Elias Lindholm at 6:20 as he cut into the slot for a good scoring opportunity. Again, the Swedes took advantage. At 7:30, Staffan Kronwall beat Salak with a short-side wrister as Loui Eriksson provided the screen.

Re-energizing the crowd, the Czechs struck back with their own power play goal at 13:28. Voracek received the puck from Nakladal and then gave it right back to him for a center-point bomb that Jagr tipped past Enroth. For the legendary Triple Gold Club member, it was his 30th career World Championship goal in 71 games.

The Czechs came on strong during a mid-second period power play, and Enroth was forced to make a nice right pad save when Jagr busted through the Swedish defence with dazzling stickhandling.

Sweden restored its two-goal lead with 5:25 left in the middle frame on a beautiful play. Behind the goal line, Lindholm staved off Jiri Novotny, and came out to center it to Rask, who whirled around to whack it past Salak.

The Czechs kept on fighting. With Lindstrom in the box for interference, Hertl cut the deficit to 3-2 at 2:52 of the third when he banged home the rebound from Nemec's long drive.

Just 1:16 later, Lindstrom redeemed himself. Oscar Moller blocked a shot at the Swedish blue line, sped away, and fed the puck across to Lindstrom on an odd-man rush. The Toronto Maple Leafs forward made no mistake, putting it home on the stick side.

At 11:34, the Czechs made it 4-3 when Jan Hedja rushed down the right side into the Tre Kronor zone and sent a pass to Simon in the slot. He pivoted and sent a backhand past Enroth's blocker.

It took less than another minute for the Czechs to make it 4-4. Cervenka burst away on a partial breakaway and fooled Enroth with another backhander, this one high from the right faceoff circle on the glove side. The building was electric with joy.

"Our fans were great from the beginning," said Zatovic. "They helped us a lot because we wanted to play our best for them. I hope they’ll be the same next game. It’s a big help."

Things reached a fever pitch when Zatovic put the Czechs up by one with 3:07 remaining, banging it into the empty net after a great passing play with Novotny and Simon.

The Swedes tied it up at 5-5 with 53 seconds left on a 6-on-4 man advantage, having pulled their goalie with Petr Koukal in the box for tripping. Sjogren directed a low shot from the slot through Salak's legs.

"They got a couple of easy goals in the third that we have to prevent, but we were able to get it back and win the game," said Forsberg. "That was a plus for us."

Sweden won bronze last year, while the Czechs are looking for their first medal since 2012’s bronze.

A spectacular opening ceremony took place before the puck drop, featuring a magician wielding a huge wand, a giant puck gliding around the ice, and scenes from Czech culture projected on the ice. The 2015 cartoon rabbit mascots, Bob and Bobek, descended from the ceiling inside an enormous top hat and leaped on to the ice before playing some charmingly goofy hockey.

Amid dramatic red lighting, leather-clad Czech rockers Kabat performed their hard-hitting new song “Brousime noze” (“We Are Sharpening Our Blades”), which is dedicated to the Czech national team.

IIHF President Rene Fasel took the microphone to declare the 2015 IIHF World Championship open. “I wish all of you a great championship,” he added. Based on Day One, that wish will be fulfilled.