Wednesday, 17 April 2013

First Relegation Game goes to a shootout with strong goaltending on display

With the heartbreak of not being able to compete for a medal, Sweden competed against the Czech Republic in the relegation. Despite qualifying for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Sweden had to cope with the fact that demotion was a harsh reality.

The moment the puck dropped, the Swedes came out aggressively on offense. Their attack was complemented by the Swedish defense stifling the Czech offense. During the first half of the opening frame, the Czechs only managed one shot on net.

Radka Lhotska was given the assignment of starting between the pipes for the Czech Republic. She was peppered with shots throughout the period. Lisa Johansson fired a slapshot that bounced out of her glove.

With Katerina Flachsova of the Czech Republic serving a penalty for body checking, the Swedish persistence began to pay dividends. Johansson would manage to score the first power play goal of the tournament (at 8:48) for the 1-0 lead. Lina Wester and Emma Eliasson would earn the assist on Johansson’s goal.

Entering the second stanza, Sweden was on another power play and hoped to take advantage. Despite great efforts by several players, Lhotska remained solid between the pipes. Wester, Elin Holmlov and Pernilla Winberg would all shoot at close range, and all were denied.

Midway through the second stanza, Sweden held a convincing 21-5 advantage in shots on net. While Sweden struggled to add to their lead, the defense continued to hold off the Czech offense. Although Katerina Mrazova continued to show her remarkable skills by weaving through traffic, she was unable to make things happen on offense.

It would be difficult for the Czechs to build momentum as Flachsova would be called for another penalty with 2:25 remaining in the second. While Lhotska earned high marks for being able to maintain her composure, Sweden’s strong puck possession was a factor.

The final frame would continue to hold much drama as Sweden still had a 1-0 lead. While the Czechs looked to tie the score, Swedish goaltender Sara Grahn found herself tested. A breakaway from Tereza Vanisova signified an aggressive stance from the Czech offense.

With a penalty to Emma Eliasson of Sweden at the 4:45 mark, the Czech Republic made the bold move of playing with an empty net for an extra attacker. While Grahn successfully neutralized the power play, the Czechs were relentless.

Eventually, their persistence yielded a positive result as Czech captain Alena Polenska tied the score. Assisted by Lucie Povova and Denisa Krizova, the shot floated through heavy traffic and found its way past Grahn.

Although both squads tried to end the game in regulation, the strong goaltending on display ensured that there would be an overtime period. A slapshot had tricked through the pads of Lhotska and the red light had flashed.

While Sweden believed they had scored the game winning goal 26 seconds in, the play had to go under review due to the heavy traffic in the crease. With no goal as the call, play continued as both squads were determined to score.

A tripping call to Jenni Aserholt with 1:56 remaining in overtime forced the Swedes to go into penalty kill mode. Erika Grahm collided with Czech player Lucie Povova into the boards and Povova was down for a few seconds. While no penalty was called on the play, Sweden’s Lina Wester was called for hooking.

With Grahn providing a solid performance between the pipes, a winner would need to be determined in the shootout. Petra Herzigova from the Czech Republic shot first and her backhand shot was denied.

Sweden’s alternate captain Elin Holmlov proceeded and she also attempted a backhanded shot. Katerina Mrazova, the first European to win the Clarkson Cup shot for the Czechs and Grahn made a glove save.

The second shooter for Sweden was Pernilla Winberg. With strong skating strides, her shot was blocked by Lhotska. Following Winberg was Vendula Pribylova and she was unable to solve Grahn. Emma Eliasson would emerge as the shootout hero for the Swedes as she slipped the puck past Lhotska as the Swedish bench leaped from the bench in an emotional outpouring of support.

Depsite the heartbreaking loss, Jana Fialova of the Czech Republic approached the loss in stride. When asked if the shootout was exciting, she replied, “Of course, it was exciting. Going into the shootout was awesome.”

Having fought back to tie the game and force a shootout, Fialova felt the game gave the Czechs confidence, “It was good for us. We beat them the last time and we knew we could do it. We did not give up today.”

Sweden’s Emilia Andersson was very excited for the win and she believed her team could prevail in a high pressure situation like the shootout, “I believe in my team. I knew we could do it. Sara Grahn was awesome in net.”

When asked if the win gave the Swedes momentum for the second relegation game, she stated, “For sure. We want to win the next game so we don’t have to play three games. We want to stay in this division.”

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