Few had expected the Swiss hockey team to win their Tuesday afternoon match against Russia. And in the opening minutes, it looked as though it would not even be close.This content was published on April 28, 2009 - 18:33
Perhaps the game's relatively close 4-2 outcome in favour of Russia at the Ice Hockey World Championship was some consolation for Switzerland's inability to hold a one-goal first period lead against a more physical Russian opponent.
"We saw that we can play with one of the world championship favourites," said Swiss coach Ralph Krueger. "That's the message for today. Getting almost 40 shots on their goal is a success. It's the best game we've ever had against Russia, even better than the victories in 1998 or 2000, where we couldn't keep up and won because of great goaltending."
Defending champion Russia, coming off a decisive 7-2 victory against France on Sunday evening, made their mark early into the game with a goal by Vitali Atyushov.
That the top-ranked Russians beat Swiss goaltender and Toronto Maple Leaf Martin Gerber just over two minutes into the game was an inauspicious omen for the home side.
But would the early score be the elixir for a two-game case of the jitters for the Swiss national squad or a sign of things to come over the remaining 58 minutes?
Switzerland had entered the game with close wins over France and Germany but their play inspired little confidence for fans hoping the seventh-ranked team might fight through the qualifying round and win a place in the semifinal.
Both teams were playing their third and final games in Group B's preliminary round at the world tournament.
The early deficit against Russia might have stoked some fire in the home team, which was playing before a sell-out crowd of 11,479 in Bern, the national capital.
With Switzerland on a power play at 9:46 in the first period, Canadian-born forward Ryan Gardner answered Russia when he hacked a rebound past goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. Ivo Rüthemann and Severin Blindenbacher assisted.
Russia made three trips to the penalty box in the next seven minutes and paid for it.
Still in the first period, the favourites managed to stymie several chances in front of a crowded net until forward Martin Plüss put Switzerland ahead. The goal, assisted by New York Islander Mark Streit and Ivo Rüthemann, came at 17:17 and set off a minor symphony of cowbells in the arena's upper quarters.
The first period ended with Switzerland retaining its one-goal advantage, a lead that continued almost to the middle of the second third.
At 29:08, Russia's Sergei Zinoviev waltzed down the middle of rink and into Swiss end. Jumping over a diving Swiss player, Zinoviev handed the puck to Atlanta Thrashers captain Ilya Kovalchuk who beat Gerber on the left side. It was one of three points of the night for Kovalchuk.
Both goalies – both former backups for the Anaheim Ducks – experienced some tense moments in the last minutes of the second period. Switzerland drove into the Russian zone with around three minutes left but were unable to connect. Russia followed in the last 40 seconds with pressure on the Swiss net. The puck floated for several seconds around Gerber's right side before he gained control.
The second period ended in a 2-2 tie.
Switzerland and Russia picked up penalties early into the third period. Switzerland's Felicien Du Bois was called for cross-checking at 41:18 and Konstatin Gorovikov made his way to the penalty box 15 seconds later for interference. Neither team capitalised.
At 7:28 into the third period, with both teams playing at even strength, Switzerland got into trouble when Russia's Alexi Morozov picked the puck from his own blue line, making a long drive toward Gerber.
For a moment, it looked as though Morozov would have a one-on-one chance against Switzerland until Kovalchuck joined the play on the left side. Skating past Switzerland's blue line, Morozov passed to Kovalchuck, drawing Gerber to his right side. Kovalchuk returned the puck to Morozov, who flicked it into an open net.
Switzerland gained an opportunity to tie the game when Russia's Oleg Tverdovsky was called for holding at 52:52. With the puck in the Russian end, Switzerland saw the puck bounce past or over their sticks on two occasions, negating any possible opportunities to get back in the game.
Switzerland pulled Gerber with just under a minute left in the game and the Swiss fans, now on their feet, tried unsuccessfully to will their side to extend the game into overtime.
Russia's Alexander Perezhogin, seeing an empty net, added a goal with 15 seconds left.
"We saw two great teams and a really nice atmosphere," said Russian coach Slava Bykov, a former Fribourg player. "I wasn't surprised at all about the Swiss performance. We tried to take advantage of their mistakes, and we were successful."
The game ended with 39 shots for Switzerland versus Russia's 24. Martin Plüss and Alexi Morozov were named players of the game.
It was Switzerland's first loss of the world tournament. Russia have won three straight games. The result leaves Switzerland in second place in Group B. They begin the qualifying round on Thursday evening, probably against Latvia.
swissinfo, Justin Häne at the PostFinance Arena in Bern
Hungary vs Belarus
In Zurich, Belarus beat Hungary 3-1 on Tuesday afternoon.
It was Hungary's first world tournament as a top-tier team in 71 years. They lost all three of their preliminary games.
Belarus have won two of three games and move on to the qualifying round. They play next on Thursday.
The loss places Hungary in the relegation round. They play again on Friday.
26 Gerber, Martin
66 Rueger, Ronnie
5 Blindenbacher, Severin
7 Streit, Mark
13 Du Bois, Felicien
31 Seger, Mathias
54 Furrer, Philippe
57 Belzina, Goran
90 Josi, Roman
10 Ambühl, Andres
14 Wick, Roman
18 Deruns, Thomas
23 Paterlini, Thierry
28 Plüss, Martin
32 Rüthemann, Ivo
35 Jeannin, Sandy
38 Ziegler, Thomas
39 Sannitz, Raffaelle
51 Gardner, Ryan
67 Lemm, Romano
86 Sprunger, Julien
88 Romy, Kevin
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