Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Vitkovice takes the lead in the series.

(Written for Eurohockey.com)

On home ice, HC Vitkovice Steel's miraculous recovery saw them claim Game 3 of their quarter final series with third seed Pardubice, whilst in the other game, Marek Pinc's 31 shot shutout lifted Liberec to victory.

HC Vitkovice Steel 3 - 2 HC Pardubice (Shootout)
(Vitkovice leads series 2-1)

Pardubice must be ruing the Extraliga's rule to have shootouts in the playoffs, as the third seed have now dropped the last two games, both via shootouts. Vitkovice scored twice to Pardubice's once in the decider, as Ondřej Šedivý and captain Jiří Burger fired home, both with exquisite backhand moves, whilst Filip Šindelář, who had an outstanding game by saving 42 shots, was only beaten by Martin Bartek in the first round. Vitkovice's Roman Málek, who was shelled in game one of this series was not even dressed as the back-up for this game.

The Ostrava side opened the scoring in this match, as veteran forward Viktor Ujčík capitalised on some beautiful passing play, as Burger found Ujčík with a no-look backhand pass, and the latter hammered a quick shot past Martin Růžička, who had 34 saves in this game. Pardubice began the second period on the powerplay, with Ctirad Ovčačík in the box, and they made their advantage count just 27 seconds into the second period, as Petr Koukal fired a rebound shot past Šindelář to level the scores.

As with most of the games in the playoffs so far, this game would be going down to the wire, but it seemed that Pardubice would be the ones to take the win. Pardubice's goal by Jan Stary in the 43rd minute was all the scoring in the period until the final minute, and as the clock ticked down, Vitkovice were becoming desperate. With just ten seconds to go, after quickly gaining the zone, Juraj Štefanka, with no options, fired a weak shot from the right wing side boards. However, not even he would have expected the puck to elude the grasp of Martin Růžička, and see the red goal light go on. Vitkovice had got lucky in regulation, but there was no luck in the shootout, as Šedivý and Burger dispatched their shots expertly to give the Ostrava side a 2-1 lead in the series.

HC MOUNTFIELD České Budějovice 0 - 1 Bili Tygri Liberec
(Liberec leads series 2-1)

It truly was the Marek Pinc show in Budějovice on Monday night, as the veteran shot stopper made 31 saves to lead his team to a Game 3 victory. Only one goal was enough for the White Tigers, which was scored in the 35th minute. Liberec won the faceoff in the Budějovice zone, and the puck was quickly worked to Lukáš Vantuch, who quickly fired home, giving Liberec what would be an unassailable lead.

Budějovice weren't without their chances, and they had thought they had beaten Pinc mid way through the first period, only for the referees to wave the goal off as there was no conclusive evidence that the puck had crossed the line after hitting the frame of the goal. It was a frustrating night for the home fans, who saw their team spurn chance after chance, and the pressure increases on them to get something out of Game 4 in order to keep pace with Liberec. After a disappointing start to the playoffs, Jakub Kovář stopped 31 of 32 shots to give his team a chance in this game, but Budějovice were abject in front of goal.

It was what Liberec coach Filip Pešán called a "typical playoff game". Speaking after the game, he said "It was a match full of personal battles and they fought for every inch of ice. We managed to eliminate the presence of Budějovice in front of our goal, which was the cause of our problems in the last game".

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