The comeback king
The comeback king
Slovakia leaves it late again
The Slovaks could well be crowned the comeback kings of this competition after completing a third successive victory after trailing deep into the third period.
This time it was a 54th-minute winner from Marian Gaborik that finally subdued a spirited Slovenian team and earned a first success in regulation after an absorbing encounter at Ostrava's CIZ Arena.
But for much of the game it seemed that Slovenia was on the verge of repeating its Sochi sensation and claiming another famous victory over its near neighbour in Central Europe. It took a thunderbolt from Andrej Meszaros – Slovakia’s unexpected scoring leader – to tie the scores on 48 minutes before Gaborik wrapped it up with two further goals.
The start was very different. Slovenia welcomed Jan Urbas back to the team after he shook off an illness – and the team’s leading scorer in last year’s promotion campaign wasted little time in opening the scoring. The first Slovene power play of the night ended successfully as Urbas scampered into position in front of Jan Laco just in time to tip home Ales Kranjc’s shot from the blue line.
With just six minutes played Slovakia was behind for the third time in three games and Slovenia was doing a good job of attacking the play in centre ice to try to keep it that way. A powerful Slovak offence featuring NHL snipers Gaborik and Tomas Tatar found its chances limited as too many passes were stopped in the neutral zone. When a rush did come off, as for Richard Panik midway through the opening session, Robert Kristan’s pads were up to the test.Continue reading
Kristan was back in the team in place of the injured Luka Gracnar. He was the goalie when Slovenia sensationally beat Slovakia in Sochi last year, recording its first ever victory at an Olympic Games and he possibly drew inspiration from that to keep his goal intact when the opposition tried to up the pace on a power play midway through the second period.
However Laco was busier at the other end in the middle session as Slovenia looked to get its lively offence into the game at every opportunity. The pick of Laco’s 14 saves in the second came when Ales Music got away on a Tomaz Razingar pass and warmed the goalie’s glove.
The third period saw Slovakia's head coach Vladimir Vujtek leave captain Tomas Kopecky on the bench throughout - he later said "Tomas is a team player and knows there will be some changes when the team is not succeeding" - and the bold decision paid off.
Once again it was Meszaros time. The Buffalo Sabres D-man had never scored for Slovakia before Sunday's fightback against Belarus – now he has three goals, and all of them were vital. Here he leveled it up on the power play, unleashing a thunderous shot from the blue line to finally end Kristan’s resistance. With 12 minutes to play the noise levels in the arena were turned up to 11 as another sell-out Slovak crowd scented another great escape in the making.
"We're playing with fire in these games but we know we'll have to play better because there's another great opponent waiting for us tomorrow," said Meszaros after the game. "But our guys deserve kudos for the way we kept doing the right thing, we stuck to the system, fought hard and in the end we won a big three points."
Even then it wasn’t finished. Slovenia still believed it could win – and might have done it if Jan Mursak’s shot had flashed past the other side of the post with Slovakia’s defence stretched. But, in keeping with this roller-coaster game, a slip by Urbas on the blue line sent Slovenia scrambling back in desperation to close out a dangerous three-on-one rush.
That reprieve was short-lived. The next opportunity proved decisive as Marian Gaborik opened his account for the competition with a fine goal. Taking a pass from Libor Hudacek, the LA Kings forward deceived Mitja Robar and picked his spot to beat Kristan stick side and give Slovakia a precious 2-1 advantage.
We had a better start than the last two games We were leading until it was a different game. It was a tough loss for us.
They had the power play and Meszaros scored that big goal and they were pumped up. It was then much harder for us.
Slovenia's Robert Sabolic was left to reflect on the difference between the two teams. "Gaborik is an incredible player," he said. "We tried to take care of him but he was still able to score. That’s why he’s such an amazing player in the world."
Slovenia pulled Kristan with 82 seconds left but the gamble failed. Gaborik did the business again in the last second, stealing the puck in centre ice and firing into the empty net to put the seal on another hard-fought win and climb to second in the Group B rankings.
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