Thursday night was a good night for the Czech teams in the European Trophy. Five of the Czech teams were in action. Four of them won. And HC Mountfield České Budějovice and HC Plzeň 1929 applied a lot of preassure on Slovan Bratislava at the top of the East Division.
Slovan looked very strong at the start of the tournament when they picked up 11 points out of a possible 12 in their first four games. But all of those four games were played at home in the Slovak capital of Bratislava.
Thursday night they travelled to Budejovice and for the second game in a row suffered a defeat as the hometeam, HC Mountfield, won the game 2–1.
Mountfield showed from the first face-off that they were intent on grabbing the chance to catch Slovan Bratislava at the top of the table. The homeside came out flying and was in complete control of the first period. They won the shots 22–5 and even played 5-on-3 for over a minute. But it wasn’t until only 1:12 remained in the period that the first goal came. Pavel Kasparik won a faceoff and Jan Novák fired the puck past Branislav Konrad in the Slovan goal.
The home side created the most and the best chances in the second period as well and also took a 2–0-lead on a power play when, once again, Novak shot from the blueline. This time, man-of-the-match Konrad saved the shot, but couldn’t prevent Jakub Langhammer from scoring on the rebound.
But Slovan bounced back quickly when team captain Michal Hudec, who spent five seasons playing for the Budějovice team, cut the lead in half only 27 seconds after the second goal for the home team, to set up an interesting last 20 minutes.
The expected push for an equalizer didn’t really come, though, and despite playing 3-on-5 and despite Slovan pulling Konrad in goal with a minute and a half left, Mountfield could hold on to the lead and the three points.
The result put them only two points behind Slovan with two games in hand.
Radek Duda's 2-point effort helped Plzeň beat
Vienna 3-1 on Thursday. Photo: isport.blesk.cz.
A third power-play goal on the night cut the lead in half, when Jonathan Ferland made it 2–1, but Plzeň didn’t let the Austrians any closer and with nine seconds left, Tomáš Vlasák made sure of the win when he scored a third in the empty net.
”We have a big desire to win, no matter who we play and I think we ade our fans happy today” said Duda after the game. ”On the other side, we can do things better and we hope we can prove that in the next game.” That is the very important game at home against Slovan Bratislava on Saturday. A win there will put Plzeň top of the division and in a nice position to qualify for the Red Bull Salute. A defeat can be costly.
In the North Division, top of the table Djurgården has no games this week, giving the chasing teams the possibility to make up some ground on them. Finnish Jokerit took that chance and defeated Slavia Praha 4–2 in a game that was won in two minutes and two seconds towards the end of the first period. Teemu Pulkkinen, Jeremy Dehner and Janne Lahti scored a goal each to make it 3–0 to Jokerit. The team from Prague never really recovered from those blows.
”We need to pick up maximum points from the three games this week in order to really challenge for a place in the playoff” said Jokerit coach Erkka Westerlund before the trip to the Czech Republic. The first three are in the bag and Jokerit advanced into second place of the division since their Finnish compatriots Helsinki IFK lost their game also played in the Czech capital.
HIFK, unbeaten so far with eight points out of a possible nine before Thursdays game opened the scoring 1:55 into the second period and was the better of the two teams in the opening two periods. But Sparta turned the game around in the third period, with one goal from Peter Jánský and one from Petr Tenkrat. Jerry Antola looked to have salvaged a point from HIFK late in the third period, but another strike from Tenkrat gave Sparta a glimmer of hope of finding a way into the Red Bull Salute. But in order to keep that hope alive, they need a win against Jokerit on Saturday.
Swedish Luleå, also kept a flicker of hope alive as two penalties gave them two points at home against Finnish side Oulun Kärpät. First, Johan Harju scored the goal the tied the game with a little over four minutes left on a penalty shot. Then Mattias Persson scored the gamewinning goal in the penalty shootout.
The South and West divisions look to be real tight when it comes to which teams will advance into the Red Bull Salute. The games on Thursday only made it even more uncertain in those two divisions.
In the South Adler Mannheim lost their 100-percent record when Linköping won 2–0 with two power-play goals from Mikael Håkanson and Niclas Hävelid. And in the same division Bílí Tygři Liberec kept HV71 scoreless as the Czechs won 3–0 away from home to close in on the other teams in the division, having only played three games so far.
All seven Czech teams are in action on Saturday night. Games can be followed live at EuropeanTrophy.com.