Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Advantage: Denmark!

Andreas Grundtvig scored the winner with 15 seconds left as Denmark rallied from a 4-2 deficit to top Belarus 5-4 in the relegation opener.

The first World Junior meeting ever between these nations was a wild affair. Denmark blew a 2-0 first-period lead but scored twice in the final minute for the victory.
For Denmark, assistant captain Joachim Blichfeld stepped up with two goals and an assist, and Jonas Rondbjerg had a goal and two assists. Philip Schultz added a single.
"It’s one of the craziest games I’ve played," said Blichfeld. "I think we started out really good. We were up 2-0. We’ve got to keep that lead, but we didn’t. Still, we found a way to fight back. It’s a great feeling right now."
Ilya Litvinov, Vladislav Yeryomenko, Ivan Drozdov, and Igor Martynov tallied for Belarus. Captain Maxim Sushko and Yegor Sharangovich each added two assists.
Belarus’s last World Junior victory came on 3 January, 2007 (3-1 over Germany) in Mora, Sweden. So this was truly a tough loss for the newly promoted former Soviet republic.
Game Two of the relegation round is Thursday at 12 noon at KeyBank Center.
"I don’t know what happened in the last minute. We just didn’t play to win at the end. We need to realize that and come out and win the next two," said Yeryomenko. "I think we are stronger than our opponents and we should win the next two games. I don’t think we need to change anything. We just need to be tougher and every player should play their best and everything will be good!"
The Danes made the quarter-finals each year from 2015 to 2017, but this year, they were outscored 26-2 in the preliminary round. Even without a game-breaker like Nikolaj Ehlers or Oliver Bjorkstrand, more was expected. Finally their offense came alive in the battle for survival.
Shots on goal favored Denmark 30-28.
"It’s never fun to let in four goals, but as long as we score five, I don’t really care," said Danish goalie Kasper Krog. "It’s about the team and we won today. I’m happy."
The Danes won despite lacking several key forwards. Captain Christian Mathiasen-Wesje served a one-game suspension for an illegal check on Slovakia’s Erik Smolka in the 5-1 Danish loss on New Year’s Eve. Mathiasen-Wesje can return for Game Two of the series. Nikolaj Krag, who did not play in the third period against Slovakia, sat out with a concussion, and Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup was ill.
"Everybody’s got a big heart," said Blichfeld. "We love the game. Everybody loves each other. We’re fighting for each other."
During a sloppy Belarusian line change midway through the first period, Blichfeld had a great chance to open the scoring on a breakaway, but Belarus starter Andrei Grishenko foiled his backhand attempt.
With 4:04 left in the first, Denmark drew first blood. Blichfeld won a faceoff in the Belarusian end back to Rondberg, who beat Grishenko with a great glove-side shot inside the post.
Just 52 seconds later, it was 2-0 Denmark. Quick on the forecheck, Grundtvig picked the puck up on the end boards and sent it around to David Madsen, who centered it to Schultz, and he squeezed one through the Belarusian goalie’s five-hole.
At the other end, Krog stared down Drozdov on a breakaway in the final minute of the first.
Belarus broke through shorthanded just 1:01 into the second period, capitalizing on confusion behind the Danish net as Litvinov’s wraparound deflected off Danish defenceman Malte Setkov and past Krog.
At 9:13, Yeryomenko’s centre-point blast on the power play made it 2-2, beating Krog with Litvinov providing the screen in front. Sharangovich almost gave his team the lead when he fired one off the cross bar on a power play rush in the last minute of the second.
"I think when they shoot the puck, we’re way too soft," Blichfeld said. "We’ve got to be hard on the puck, skate back harder."
Early in the third period, Viktor Bovbel got a minor and misconduct for a hit from behind on Grundtvig. However, the Danes failed to take advantage. At 1:44, Belarus scored its second shorthanded goal, as Drozdov picked off a bad back pass by Sektov in the Danish zone and swooped in to deke out Krog.
Martynov gave Belarus a 4-2 lead on the power play at 8:30, roofing a rebound home. But the Danes got new life 34 seconds later when Blichfeld cut to the slot and fooled Grishenko to make it 4-3.
"He played great," Krog said of Blichfeld. "The guy is dangling around outthere. Sometimes he just does what he wants to. And I’m happy to see him make great plays out there for us."
With 1:52 left, Danish coach Olaf Eller pulled Krog for the extra attacker, and that paid off when Blichfeld converted a rebound to make it 4-4 with just 34 seconds left in regulation.
Looking ahead, Krog said: "We’ve just got to be a bit better on special teams and we’ve got to work hard. We’ve got to prepare ourselves for the next game and come out flying."

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