QUEBEC CITY – After its games against Russia and the Czech Republic, Belarus now found itself on the other side of the table in a game of cat and mouse. The mouse won again, as Denmark got the win on overtime, 3-2.
Even though both teams had already missed their opportunity to advance to the quarterfinals, the stakes were high as the standings in this year's World Championships have a bearing on the qualification to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
Denmark’s goalkeeper Patrick Galbraith had his third start of the tournament, signaling a passing of the torch from Peter Hirsch, the team’s starter at the beginning of the World Championship.
"It was the coach's decision, but Peter Hirsch and I had a good man-to-man talk last night, and he was very supportive of the decision. He thought that I would be up to the task, and he had no problem letting me start the game," said Galbraith after the game.
Belarus, in turn, rode Vitali Koval all the way, starting him in all six games of the tournament.
Galbraith was tested early in the game, when Mikhail Grabowsky set up Alexei Ugarov right in front of the net in the line’s first shift of the game, but the young Danish goalie made two fast kick saves, setting the tone for the night.
"I was a little nervous, it was probably the biggest game of my life," said Galbraith who ended up making 33 saves tonight.
Belarus had the puck and controlled the game, Denmark tried to set up a neutral zone trap, and wait for its chances. Patiently, very patiently. So patiently, that it took 14 minutes before Koval had to make the first save, and that on a Danish slapshot from the corner of the blueline.
Belarus, on the other hand hand, had several scoring chances in the first period, but Galbraith turned away all 13 shots on goal. Koval, who had made 181 saves in the first five games - for the average of 36 - now only had two in the first period.
"We had a little flashback of the games against the Russians and the Czechs. All the time, we thought we'd score any minute but their goalie played a terrific game," said Alexei Ugarov.
At 21.19, Vladimir Denisov was sent to the penalty box for hooking. Denmark, the tournament’s 11th best powerplay team, cycled the puck, then sent it to Morten Green on the blueline. Koval got a piece of it but Kim Staal got the rebound for 1-0.
With a little more than ten minutes remaining in the second period, Denmark had a chance when Jannik Hansen sent Morten Madsen on a breakaway. He was tripped and Denmark got a penalty shot. Koval, fresh out of two losing penalty shootout contests against Russia and the Czech Republic, got his revenge when he stopped Kim Staal, Denmark’s leading scorer in the tournament.
In the third period, Galbraith became the Belarus forwards’ nightmare. Ugarov couldn’t believe his eyes when Galbraith made a glove save on his wrist shot from the slot. He raised his arms and held his head in disbelief.
With 4:18 remaining, Belarus finally found a way to get the puck past Galbraith. Mikhail Grabovsky went around the net, found Ugarov in the slot, and this time, his wrist shot was too much for Galbraith.
"The first time, I thought the puck went in, too, so it was twice as nice when I finally did score. I had at least ten scoring chances tonight so it was great to finally get a goal," Ugarov said.
The next two minutes were all Belarus, and at 57:59, they got their reward when Dmirty Meleshko's slapshot from between the circles beat Galbraith on the stick side.
"I don't want to swear, but I was praying that we'd bounce back. And we did so I'm proud of the guys," said Galbraith.
The last minute was dramatic. First, with 40 seconds remaining, Denmark pulled Galbraith. After a faceoff in Belarus's zone, the puck bounced to Peter Regin who sent it past Koval to tie the game.
Galbraith blocked Andrei Kostitsyn's shot with just 15 seconds remaining. Then, at 3.1 seconds remaining, Denmark pulled Galbraith again, in an effort to win the game in regulation time.
Denmark lost the faceoff and the game went into sudden death.
Peter Regin was Denmark's big hero when he slipped his wraparound past Koval to win the game 3-2 after 2:11 of the overtime.
"You have to give full credit to Denmark. They found a way to play that would work against us and we fell right into it. We haven't turned the puck away in four, five games, but tonight we did that all the time. Individual errors cost us the game, but Denmark played a terrific game, too," said Belarus coach Curt Fraser after the game.
Denmark's coach Mike Sirant was pleased with the tournament, even if the overtime win wasn't enough to give Denmark home-ice advantage in the Olympic qualification.
"Our guys went out and did the job tonight. Whatever happens (with the Olympic qualification), happens," he said.
"We played some great hockey in this World Championship and we can feel pretty good about how the players represented Denmark," he added.