The Czech Republic scored 18 seconds into the game and never looked back, skating to a convincing 4-1 win over Slovakia.
The win moves the team from last place and relegation series all the way to third place in the Group A standings to qualify for the quarter-finals on January 2.
With the loss, the Slovaks drop down to fourth place, good enough to qualify for the playoffs as well but having to play one of Sweden, Finland, or Russia on Thursday, a daunting task, to say the least (as will the Czechs, who will play the second-place team from Group B in the crossover quarters).
"I think they had the better motivation because we didn't have to win," said Slovakian forward Martin Reway. "We didn't work as hard as we should have, and they got a quick goal."
"It's Slovakia and against Czech, which is a great rivalry," said Czech Petr Sidlik. "They weren't going to just let us win or play lightly. We started well, and came ready, so we played as we wanted."
The ice was still wet when the Czechs opened the scoring. Martin Prochazka took a quick shot in front which was stopped by Samuel Baros. The goalie couldn’t control the rebound, though, and David Patrnak swept the loose puck in for a 1-0 lead just 18 seconds in.
The Czechs struck again at 3:54 on a great breakaway pass from Jan Kostalek to Ondrej Kase. Kase made one move to his backhand and flipped the puck over the outstretched pad of Baros to make it 2-0.
"We needed a quick start," said Sidlik. "We wanted to get a lot of shots on their goal, and we did that well. We didn't do that against Germany when we lost."
The Slovaks got their bearings and played solid hockey the rest of the period but couldn’t generate much offense. They had their best chance late when they had a two-man advantage for 62 seconds, but they failed to test Marek Langhamer with any quality shots.
The Czechs threatened to run away with the game early in the second with two more goals. Dominik Simon intercepted a pass and got the puck to Procahzka, and his hard shot found the back of the net at 2:00.
This prompted Slovakia’s coach Ernest Bokros to pull Baros in favour of Richard Sabol, but less than five minutes later the Czechs extended their lead to 4-0. This time it was a point shot on the power play from Petr Sidlik that did the damage.
Slovakia had a great chance to get back in it, though, after Patrik Marcel took a major and game misconduct for spearing David Minarik. Yet on the power play the Slovaks took a minor, and during the other three minutes they failed to get a decent scoring chance.
The top line did get the team on the board with only 4.4 seconds left in the period. David Griger stole the puck inside the Czech blue line and spotted captain Milan Kolena in front, and he made no mistake. The assist gave Griger a tournament best seven, and the point gave him tem, tops among all players.
"We have to be mentally prepared for the next game," said Reway. "There will be a lot of people there, and some of our guys haven't played in front of 15,000 fans before. We have to be ready.
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)