There were three games on the schedule for the Women’s World Championships today—a pair of quarterfinal games, and the first of a three-game series to determine which of the two bottom teams would be relegated. In the quarterfinal games, we were treated to both a dominant win and an exciting upset, while the relegation round saw the first victory for the Czech Republic this tournament.
Finland vs. Sweden
In the predictable quarterfinal game of the day, Noora Räty and Finland shut out Sweden without a whole lot of trouble. Sara Sakkinen scored Finland’s first goal about four minutes in, and Linda Valimaki followed up with a power play goal a couple minutes later. In the second, Finnish defender Jenni Hiirikoski scored on the power play after a Swedish tripping penalty. Susanna Tapani, who’s looked great this tournament, notched her eighth point and made it 4-0 for Finland with a goal in the third period. It was a chippy game—these are two teams who don’t like each other much—and while both teams took their share of penalties, the Finns were the team able to capitalize. After getting shelled by the Canadians and the Americans, Räty had a relatively easy game, only facing 16 shots. Her Swedish counterpart Sara Grahn dealt with 48, from a Finnish offense that’s picked apart much tougher teams recently.
Russia vs. Germany
The upset of the tournament so far (sorry, Finland) took place in the evening game, with Group B surprise Germany taking on Russia. Going into the tournament, Germany was the lowest-ranked team—eighth in the world. In February, they lost to Japan in Olympic qualifiers, missing their chance to go to Pyeongchang. They had an unexpectedly good showing in Group B, cementing their quarterfinal position early with wins over the Czechs and Swedes, but still came into this game against Russia as the scrappy underdog. Russia won bronze last year, and have a lot of international experience. Even though they’d looked shaky in the round robin, they also had, at least on paper, offensive firepower. The Germans had a lot of determination and Jennifer Harss in goal, which turned out to be enough.
Russia struck first, with Anna Shokhina getting her first goal of the tournament about two and a half minutes in. Shokhina had a whole lot of near misses in group play, and it was somewhat inevitable that she’d eventually bury one. That was Russia’s only goal. The Germans put on a master class in “how to slow down a faster, better team” until the middle of the second period, when a series of ill-advised Russian penalties gave the German team a 5-on-3 power play (technically, two of them, as the Russians took a too-many-men penalty while killing the first 5-on-3). It took the Germans 41 seconds of the two-player advantage to capitalize, with Kerstin Spielberger burying a nice shot from the faceoff circle.
The score stayed tied at 1-1 until about halfway through the third, when Marie Delarbre drove hard to the net and tucked the puck around Alexandrova’s right pad. Suddenly, the Germans had the lead, and all they needed to do was keep it for the next ten minutes. Thus began a cycle of stretch pass, German backcheck, save by Harss and/or turnover, zone clear, and then the stretch pass again. The Germans leaned on a smothering defensive system, and an exceptional goaltending performance from Harss, to run the clock out. For the first time, they will play in a semifinal game at the World Championships.
Relegation: Czech Republic vs. Switzerland
Czech Republic, 4-2
The Czech Republic didn’t win any of its round-robin games, so this victory must have felt even sweeter. Tereza Vanišová and Katerina Mrázová scored for the Czechs in the first, and Aneta Lédlová put in another one halfway through the second. The Swiss scored two quick goals about halfway through the third period, one from Lara Stalder, and one from Livia Altmann (assisted by Lara Stalder). This brought the score to 3-2, and despite a hard push by the Swiss to tie it, Lédlová scored an empty netter with eighteen seconds left to seal the game for the Czechs.
Extended highlights courtesy of the IIHF on vimeo.
With the quarterfinals done, we now know the semifinal matchups—Canada vs. Finland and Germany vs. USA. Both games will be on Thursday, and we’ll have a preview/GDT up that morning.
Russia and Sweden will also play each other on Thursday, to determine the fifth and sixth place finishes. First, the Czech Republic and Switzerland will play the second game in their three-game relegation series. Switzerland needs to win to prevent relegation—although, since the IIHF is seriously considering expanding the Women’s Worlds from eight to ten teams in 2019, relegation is mostly theoretical at this point.