Czech fans are loving the party in Copenhagen right now. Their team got three first-period goals, and that was all it took in a 3-0 win over Belarus on Friday night.
Libor Šulák, Roman Horák, and Michal Řepík scored for the Czechs, who haven’t lost since falling 3-2 to defending champion Sweden on Sunday. They now have nine points in Group A and are in great shape for a quarter-final berth with two group games left against France and Austria.
It’s hard to believe this was the first regulation win of the 2018 tournament for the Czechs, They look like a different team. In fact, they may have accelerated from mere respectability to contender status. And it’s not hard to understand why coach Josef Jandač’s men have perked up.
Boston Bruins stars David Pastrňák and David Krejčí, fresh off the plane from the NHL playoffs, debuted with immediate impact on a line with Dmitrij Jaškin in the 4-3 victory over previously perfect Russia. They combined for four goals and five assists, including Pastrňák’s overtime winner. The Bruins duo wasn’t as torrid against Belarus, but their mere presence opens up space for teammates. Czech goalie Pavel Francouz earned his second career IIHF World Championship shutout.
Former Belarus assistant coach Sergei Pushkov got handed the top job after Dave Lewis was fired after three lopsided losses. But two games into Pushkov’s reign, the song remains the same. In less than 24 hours, the winless Belarusians face a do-or-die challenge against Austria, which has just one point. Relegation looms.
Here, the Czechs got off to a rough start when Belarus assistant captain Alexander Kitarov ran Andrej Nestrasil into the boards from behind, with no call on the play. But when the penalty-prone Belarusians took three consecutive minors, it was just a matter of time before the ax fell.
On that third power play, Šulák brought it down at 8:13, accepting Krejčí’s feed and powering a center point drive past Belarus netminder Vitali Trus with Jaškin providing the screen.
Czech captain Roman Červenka got careless on the forecheck, clipping defenceman Yevgeni Lisovets with a high-stick in the corner at 9:35, and the Belarusians had a bonafide chance to get back in the game with a four-minute power play.
Incongruously, the Czech fans sang to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In” after this unsaintly act. But it apparently worked, as Belarus couldn’t get anything going. In a display that’s been too rare for Belarus here, captain Alexander Pavlovich paid the price, blocking a Filip Hronek howitzer from the blue line.
At 15:53, Horák made it 2-0 on a sneaky play. He handed the puck off to Tomáš Plekanec, who skated past Trus’ right post before centering it back to Horák – past three Belarusian defenders – to fire into the gaping cage.
The third Czech goal was all about speed and execution. Racing over the blue line, Řepík got a pass from Červenka and took a short windup before slapping the puck over the goalie’s glove at 18:43. That turned out the lights on Belarus’ faint hopes.
Jandač’s men took their foot off the gas pedal in the second period, while their fans amused themselves by hopping up and down in unison. When forward Artur Gavrus rang one off the post on the rush, that was as close to a reason to celebrate as Belarusian supporters would get. The only downer for the Czechs was not capitalizing on their last three power play opportunities.
The Czech Republic has defeated Belarus nine straight times at the Worlds, dating back to the inaugural 1998 encounter.
03:51 – PEN – Razvadovski, hooking
05:57 – PEN – Falkovski, delay of game
07:23 – PEN – Denisov, holding
08:13 – PP GOAL – Šulák (Krejčí)
09:35 – PEN – Červenka, high sticking double minor
13:16 – PEN – team, too many players
15:53 – GOAL – Horák (Plekanec)
18:43 – GOAL – Řepík (Červenka, Moravčík)
37:10 – PEN – Demkov, hooking
42:13 – PEN – Kitarov, hooking
53:23 – PEN – Ustinenko, high sticking
W: Francouz (21-21)
L: Trus (30-33)
SHOTS ON GOAL
13+12+8 = 33
6+5+10 = 21
Goaltenders: Pavel Francouz, David Rittich. Defence: Radko Gudas (A), Filip Hronek, Michal Jordán, Jakub Krejčík, Michal Moravčík, Adam Polášek, David Sklenička, Libor Šulák. Forwards: Roman Červenka (C), Radek Faksa, Roman Horák, Tomáš Hyka, Dmitrij Jaškin, David Krejčí, Dominik Kubalík, Martin Nečas, Andrej Nestrašil, David Pastrňák, Tomáš Plekanec (A), Michal Řepík.
Goaltenders: Mikhail Karnuakhov, Vitali Trus. Defence: Vladimir Denisov, Stepan Falkovski, Kristian Khenkel, Dmitri Korobov (A), Yevgeni Lisovets, Nikita Ustinenko, Pavel Vorobei. Forwards: Artyom Demkov, Sergei Drozd, Artur Gavrus, Artyom Kisly, Alexander Kitarov (A), Yevgeni Kovyrshin, Artyom Levsha, Alexander Pavlovich (C), Geoff Platt, Pavel Razvadovski, Yegor Sharangovich, Maxim Sushko.
|First IHLC Meeting (CZE vs. BLR)
BLR 3-2 CZE (SO) – 04/08/2011 – EHC – Minsk
|Previous IHLC Meeting (CZE vs. BLR)
CZE 3-2 BLR – 04/09/2011 – EHC – Babruysk
|Last IHLC Game
CZE 4-3 RUS (OT) – 05/10/2018 – WC – Copenhagen
|Next IHLC Game
CZE 6-0 FRA – 05/13/2018 – WC – Copenhagen