Game 7: UKR - CRO / Photo: Sarunas Mazeika
Upsets odds as Ukraine is beaten
A first frame goal burst lifts Croatia to their first win in Div. 1B. When Ukraine eventually sparked into life it proved to be all in vain.
Ivan Jankovic, Tomislav Zanoski and Dominik Kanaet all tallied for Croatia within eight and a half minutes in a first frame that set Croatia en route to a fine 4-2 win against Ukraine at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Kaunas.
Croatia netminder Mate Tomljenovic enjoyed his best game of the tournament so far with 31 saves including keeping out a penalty shot in the middle-frame.
"We played a tough game and scored on our chances. Although we missed a few more, it is ok now as we won the game," said Ivan Jankovic following Croatia's first win in Division 1B in Lithuania.
Ukraine who following an unlucky start pulled starting netminder Sergi Gaiduchenko 13:06 into the first frame. They closed the gap with a couple of final frame goals by Kyrylo Katrych and Dmytro Nimenko and pressed for an equalizer before conceding an empty netter with two seconds to go.
"We were looking to get a good start right from the outset, but we make mistakes like on kids level and lose the first period. Second and third period we are starting to play like we should, but when we start scoring it is too late," said assistant coach Oleg Shafarenko after Ukraine promotion hopes appears to have derailed following their second straight defeat in the tournament.
Following yesterday's day off at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B which saw Zalgiris Arena host a Euroleague basketball playoff game, hockey now made its return and got off to a flying start.
Jankovic opened the scoring for Croatia when converting on a one man advantage. The Medvescak Zagreb forward's low strike 4:36 found its way past Gaiduchenko from a tight angle.
Seeking a swift reply while on the powerplay, Ukraine instead got punished for their sloppiness. Defenceman Katrych fumbles with the puck on offensive blueline with Zanoski snapping up the puck, racing clear to rip an accomplished finish high past Gaiduchenko after 11:51.
When once again careless in possession, Ukraine dig themselves into a deeper hole. Kanaet capitalizes as he surges down on the left for Croatia's third goal past a hapless Gaiduchenko at 13:06.
Ukraine head coach Olexander Savitsky reacted by replacing Gaiduchenko with 19-year-old Bogdan Dyachenko in his only senior second World Championship appearance.
After surviving two straight minors early in the second frame, Anton Boikov spurns a golden opportunity when his penalty shot is saved by Tomljenovic at 31:01. Ukraine now started to find their rhytm with Croatia going into defensive mode.
3:44 into the final frame Boikov zipped a wrister off Tomljenovic's crossbar. They pull one back soon after as Katrych's blast from the blueline on a powerplay finds its way past Tomljenovic after 46:56.
Ukraine are back in the game with seven minutes to go. Andri Mikhnov muscles himself past Mislav Blagus and Nikola Senzel rounds the cage for Dmytro Nimenko to tap home Ukraine's second.
"Ukraine started to wake up but we kept playing smart, but during the last seven minutes we didn't have much energy left. We were trying to skate with them, but they are really fast and strong team, but everything ended up well, so I am happy," said Jankovic.
Ukraine got one final golden opportunity to tie the game. Vsevolod Tulstushko fired from the blueline and as it bounces back from the board Nikita Butsenko hesitated with his shot.
An empty netter with two minutes to go settles the matters to 4-2, with more to come from a jubliant Croatian team.
"We will see now what will happen in the next two games. Estonia are up for us next. They are a really good team, but hockey is a very fast sport and a lot can happen in a few minutes," Jankovic.
Ukraine, who last year were relegated from Division 1A now looks set to endure another year in Division 1B. They will face another stern test in Friday's game versus Lithuania.