Kazakhstan 1 France 2 (1-0, 0-2, 0-0)

A much-improved performance from Kazakhstan was not enough to prevent a second successive loss at the World Championship in Finland.

The Kazakhs rebounded from Saturday’s 9-1 loss to Denmark and took a first period lead against France. However, Yury Mikhailis’ team could not hang on and eventually dropped a 2-1 verdict to Les Bleus.

Defenseman Jesse Blacker admitted there was pressure to put things right after that heavy loss. “Obviously, yesterday’s game against Denmark wasn’t one of our best,” he said. “Everybody seemed to be switched off. But that’s hockey, it happens sometimes.

“We talked about how every one of us had to do better, how that kind of scoreline is unacceptable.

“Today we allowed a goal after a bad bounce and another on the penalty kill. We need to pull ourselves together and prepare for the next game.”

Displaying far greater resolve than in the previous game, Kazakhstan took an early lead. Valery Orekhov went hard to the net and got his reward when a pass from Nikita Mikhailis on the right wing deflected off his skate and into the net. It took a video review to confirm the goal, but play got the thumbs-up from the officials after that check and Orekhov could celebrate giving his team an early edge in an important game.

In recent games, goaltending has been an Achilles heel for Kazakhstan. Prior to that blow-out against the Danes, there were back-to-back five-goal maulings in Riga in warm-up action against Latvia. Today, though, Andrei Shutov was in far more impressive form. France created plenty of danger, and it took a fine blocker save to thwart Jordann Perret as the intermission approached.

The game changed course in the latter stages of the second period. Alexandre Texier, tearful in 2019 after the French saw a decade-long stay in the top flight ended in dramatic fashion, tied the game when he fired a high shot through traffic. Then, just seconds before the intermission, Florian Chakiachvili fired home the go-ahead goal while Blacker was serving a penalty.

“I thought the officials should have sent both of us to the box, and not just me,” he said. “But there’s nothing you can do when they make the decision.”

Sweden tops Czechia, shares Group B summit

The big game in Group B came in the evening, when Sweden won 5-3 against the Czech Republic. Lucas Wallmark, late of CSKA, had two assists and Buffalo Sabres forward Rasmus Asplund led the attack with two goals. Magnus Hellberg, who spent last season at Sochi, got the ‘W’ on his first appearance at this year’s tournament.

The Czechs, who began with a 5-1 win over Great Britain, took an early lead when veteran David Krejci fired home. That goal brought the first of three assists for Roman Cervenka, another experienced player with several years in the KHL.

But Cervenka was not destined to finish on the winning side, despite moving to six points in two games. Asplund grabbed an equalizer on the power play late in the first, then three goals in six minutes at the start of the second took the game away from the Czechs. A goalie change brought former Amur man Marek Langhamer to the crease, slowing the flow of goals, but there was no way back for the Czech team. With two regulation time wins, Sweden joins Finland at the top of the Group B standings.

Underdogs pose a threat

Austria, unexpectedly elevated to this year’s top division in place of Belarus, jumped to a surprise 2-0 lead over Team USA before losing out in overtime. Goals from Benjamin Lissner and Paul Huber had the Europeans dreaming of a shock win.

However, a classy finish from Kieffer Bellows halved the deficit almost immediately and Adam Gaudette sent the game into the extras. There, Luke Hughes, #4 pick in the 2021 NHL draft, fired home the winner to give the Americans a second win of the competition.

Also in Group B, Norway got its first win of this year’s World Championship, but it got a real fright against Great Britain. Everything seemed to be going smoothly for the Norwegians as they opened a 3-0 lead in the first two periods. Former Jokerit forward Mathis Olimb led the way with two power play goals in the middle frame and Britain seemed to be beaten.

But there was a dramatic fightback to come: three goals in three minutes late in the third saw GB take the game into overtime. That was the end of the heroics, though: Norway had the better of the extras and ultimately took the verdict in a shoot-out.

In Group A, too, an outsider ruffled some feathers before losing. Italy threatened a shock when it took an early lead on Canada, but there was to be no sensation in Helsinki’s early game. Phil Pietroniro enjoyed a moment to remember when he opened the scoring in the 13th minute, and the game was tied 1-1 at the first intermission after Travis Sanheim found the net for Canada.

The Italians were heavily outshot throughout the game, but hung around until midway through the second period before a flurry of three quick Canadian goals settled the outcome. There were two more in the third as Canada won 6-1; Josh Anderson and Dycin Mayo led the scoring with 1+1 apiece.

However, there was nothing for Denmark to celebrate against Switzerland in what should have been one of the day’s closer match-ups. The Swiss powered to a 6-0 win, with Denis Malgin getting a goal and three assists.

Main photo: © Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Sport / GettyImages.ru

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