Finland survived a scare, but Slovakia wasn’t so lucky on Monday, losing to Germany in the first upset at the World Ice Hockey Championships.
Michael Hackert scored two goals and Robert Muller stopped 36 shots as Germany stunned Slovakia 4-2 at the Halifax Metro Center arena.
With the win, Germany moves into a tie with Slovakia for second place in Group C of the Worlds, which are being held in Canada for the first time in the 100-year history of the International Ice Hockey Federation.
Marco Sturm and Stefan Ustorf also scored for Germany, who were outshot 38-35 by the Slovaks.
“We played a really good game,” Boston Bruins forward Sturm said. “We tried to out-battle them and it worked. We were the better team today.”
Tuomo Ruutu scored the winning goal in overtime as Finland saved face by beating underdog Norway 3-2 while Sweden hammered France 9-0 and Switzerland edged Belarus 2-1 in other preliminary-round games on Monday.
Germany has had little success in recent years against Slovakia, who were without some of their top guns in this event. Marian Goborik, Pavol Demitra and Zdeno Chara are either hurt or skipping this event.
“This is huge. Slovakia is one of bigger teams in the world,” Sturm said. “We know they don’t have their big stars in the lineup but we don’t care. We take every win and it is nice to have it.”
Ivan Ciernik and Juraj Kolnik scored for Slovakia, who won the World title in 2002. Slovakia beat Germany 5-1 at the Worlds last year and 3-1 in 2003.
But they couldn’t solve Muller on Monday and they gave up three power-play goals to Germany.
“It is nice to have those power-play goals,” Sturm said. “Special teams is such a big part of hockey right now.”
Muller, who plays for Kolner Haie, had to be sharp in the third period, making a point-blank save on Peter Fabus and then denying Andrej Podkonicky on a breakaway in the final minute.
“He was unbelievable today,” Sturm said of Muller. “He kept us in the game all night long. He deserved to be the best player tonight.”
Ruutu scored on the first shot of extra time for the Finns, who outshot Norway 30-17 in front of a crowd of 7,100.
“We played well, but our defense made some bad decision early in the game,” Finnish coach Doug Sheddon said.
The win was nice but even better was news that two-time Olympian Saku Koivu would be joining the team after his Montreal Canadiens were knocked out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Koivu called and told general manager Jari Kurri that he would be arriving in Halifax today.
“He’s a great player,” Sheddon said. “He’s good on the power play, penalty kill. He brings everything, the whole package.”