MINSK, Belarus – Canadian captain Kevin Bieksa paid the price in the form of a chipped tooth and stitches on the inside of his mouth.
After Canada held on to beat the Czech Republic 4-3 on Monday at the world hockey championship, it was worth it.
Bieksa took Jan Kovar’s stick to the mouth, a penalty that gave Canada a five-minute man advantage it scored twice on. When the Czechs scored twice in the third period to make things interesting, those power-play goals loomed large.
“If you look at it, it’s the difference in the game,” coach Dave Tippett said.
Canada’s power play was 1-for-11 in the tournament before Nathan MacKinnon and Morgan Rielly scored 17 seconds apart to build a three-goal lead. Even though Jiri Novotny and Tomas Hertl cut the advantage to one late, it was enough of a cushion to allow Canada to survive for a second straight victory.
Still flush in his face from stopping 31 shots, goaltender James Reimer joked he and his teammates just wanted to keep it close and entertain the fans at Chizhovka-Arena. But he expected the Czechs to make a push.
“They’re a good team,” Reimer said, pausing to catch his breath. “And obviously they’re playing desperate. … You know they weren’t going to roll over, you knew they were going to come hard.”
That was thanks in part to what Tippett called “unforced errors” by his players.
“They’re going to get their pressure just because they’re good players, but then adding fuel to the fire, that’s when you’re really in trouble,” Tippett said. “There was two or three times in that third period where we had a good chance to clear it, make a good, solid, simple play and we forced pucks that got turned over and then it comes right back at you.”
Even though it got nerve-wracking late, Canada had some breathing room. Goals by Joel Ward—his third of the tournament—and assistant captain Kyle Turris helped the Canadians rebound from giving up the first goal for a third straight game before the power play finally clicked.
That wasn’t just a coincidence. Tippett made some personnel switches on the power-play units, putting Alex Burrows, Ward and Turris on the ice to see what would change.
“Less skill and more work,” he said.
Work behind the net put Bieksa in position to draw the game-altering slashing penalty 15:01 into the second period on Kovar, who got an automatic game misconduct. Czech coach Vladimir Ruzicka was surprised it was called slashing and not high-sticking after checking it out on video.
No matter the penalty, Bieksa required medical attention on the bench while the game was delayed as workers brushed his blood off the ice. The 32-year-old Vancouver Canucks defenceman remained in the contest, to the surprise of no one.
“Give credit to him: Just spat out some blood and was ready to go on the next shift,” winger Matt Read said. “He’s a warrior, he’s our leader and it’s good to see that.”
Bieksa was unable to talk to reporters afterwards because he required stitches that made it difficult for him to speak.
His teammates spoke for him, most notably on the five-minute major power play.
“That’s a huge aspect of the game,” Read said. “A guy sacrificing his body, unfortunately, but if you don’t come out with at least one goal, you know you’re on your heels and it gives them all the momentum.”
Instead, Canada had all of it until midway through the third when the Czech Republic turned up the heat. The pro-Czech crowd of 6,317 came to life, but two late penalties—to Jaromir Jagr and Jiri Hudler—ended the chances of a comeback.
The win gave Canada seven points atop Group A. Its next game is Thursday against Denmark.
Before then, Tippett hopes to work on some things and use the third period as a teaching tool.
“Those are all good things—not good things for our team, but learning experiences for our team that we have to make sure we can get through situations like that,” he said.
Just minutes after holding on, Canada’s players recognized the value of getting tested in a game they looked to have total control of.
“It’s something we’re going to learn from moving forward that you can’t take it easy going into the third, no matter what kind of lead you have,” Turris said. “We’re gaining experience as we go.”
NOTES—Former Calgary Flames forward Roman Cervenka opened the scoring for the Czech Republic, cashing in on a two-on-one rush with Vladimir Sobotka. … Canada chased Czech starter Jakub Kovar after Rielly’s goal, the fourth on 13 shots. Alexander Salak got a roughing penalty for punching Burrows just seconds after he entered the game, then stopped the seven shots he saw the rest of the way.
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