Game 9: JPN-LTU / Photo: Sarunas Mazeika
Undefeated hosts roll over Japan
Lithuania called the tune from start to finish for a resounding 6-1 win against Japan to remain top of the standings in the Division I Group B.
An offensive first-period explosion saw Lithuania rush into a 2-0 lead after 3:03 and then never looked back. Arnoldas Bosas scored a hat-trick, while at the other end netminder Mantas Armalis recorded 25 saves.
Three wins out of three sees Lithuania consolidate its position in pole position at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Kaunas. Seeingly unstoppable so far and with games against Estonia and Ukraine remaining, they now need to avoid any complacency to start creeping in.
"The biggest opponent is ourselves and that we now start believing that we already have won this," said Lithuania's Edgar Rybakov.
Equal in terms of shots on goal, 25-25, Ryo Hashimoto scored Japan's lone marker early in the third period. Yutaka Fukufuji started his second game in Japan's net and recorded 19 saves.
"We had to skate and play hard, but they played a better game. Tonight we couldn't get the result we wanted, so hats off to the Lithuanian team," said Japan's Takuma Kawai.
For the second successive game, it was Rybakov who fired Lithuania ahead after 2:30 on the clock after linking up with Ilja Cetvertak. 33 seconds later the 7,010 inside Zalgiris Arena were on their feet again. Mark Kaleinikovas burst through a shaky looking Japanese rearguard to feed Bosas for Lithuania's second.
"We weren't nervous at all going into the game. We tried to get our legs going during the first five minutes of the game, but it didn't work out. We just didn't bring our a-game tonight," said Kawai.
26:04 into the second frame Dainius Zubrus picked out Bosas in the slot who fired through Fukufuji's five-hole to stretch the lead to three unanswered goals. The fourth came less than two minutes later when Povilas Verenis poked the puck just over the line after Fukufuji failed to hold on to a Tadas Kumeliauskas drive.
Japan's Hashimoto pounced on a Yuki Miura feed just 41 seconds into the final frame. But any hopes of a fightback was quickly extinguished as Lithuania continued its scoring spree.
Kumeliauskas thundered down on the right, rounded Fukufuji's cage to feed Daniel Bogdziul at 4:48 to stretch Lithuania's lead to 5-1. They were already out of sight when on the powerplay, Bosas closed the scoring with his third of the evening and Lithuania's sixth.
Despite the odds stacked against them in the hunt for promotion to Division 1A, Japan still harbour hopes of more twists and turns in what has been an eventful tournament in Kaunas so far.
"Tonight Lithuania capitalized on their chances, but there has not been too much of a difference between the teams we played so far. Anything can still happen and I hope it will. After a day off we now play Romania on Friday and we need to play better then," said Kawai.