Power play powers Sparta into Semis over Bern
Fueled by two power-play goals in the second period, Sparta Prague won 4-1 on home ice to win the Quarter-Final against SC Bern 5-2 on aggregate. Read more in Gamecentre.
by Derek O'Brien, with contribution from Karolina Antosova
Sparta Prague made history by becoming the first Czech team to advance to the CHL Semi-Finals after a 4-1 victory in front of a lively home crowd of 6,073 at O2 Arena to give them a three-goal victory on aggregate over SC Bern. Lukas Pech, Sparta's Cramo Top Scorer, added to his CHL total with 1 goal and 2 assists to lead the offence.
Cheered on their own sizable contingent of fans having made the trip from Switzerland, it was the visitors from Bern that started the game more aggressively and buzzed around the Sparta zone. They dominated in terms of territory and puck possession, but had trouble landing shots on net. In fact, they only tested Sparta goalie Tomas Popperle 15 times all game. Their best chance of the opening period came midway through on a 2-on-1 rush, with Simon Bodenmann hitting the goalpost.
“In my opinion the first period was quite cautious, we didn’t skate well. It wasn’t our game,” assessed Sparta assistant coach Jiri Veber. “But from one exact moment in the second period we started to play the way we wanted. During the first intermission there was no need to shout at players, on the contrary we encouraged them. We knew we were ready for them.”
It was Sparta who came out stronger in the second, and their aggressive play drew four Bern penalties and they scored twice. On the second power play, Juraj Mikus's point shot found the back of the net at 30:50. Just 39 seconds later, however, Bern tied it up. Luca Hischier carried the puck in the Sparta zone and found Tristan Scherwey streaking down the right wing – his low wrister beat Popperle to the far side.
Sparta regained the lead with 4:32 remaining in the middle frame, when Miroslav Forman's shot from the corner hit Genoni on the outside of his leg and found some room inside the post to sneak into the net. Then on a 5-on-3 power play they added another goal, when Pech received the puck in the slot and had all the time in the world to pick his spot on Leonardo Genoni, sliding it under his pad.
Bern had a big task ahead of them in the third period and finally got a couple of power plays but they weren't able to muster any kind of attack, and Sparta's aggressive penalty killing produced their fourth goal of the game – and a dagger into the heart of Bern. Lukas Pech forced a turnover in the neutral zone, and Petr Kumstat made a great rush into the Bern zone and beat Genoni with a great shot with 11:20 to play.
“We had a good start. We played strong in the first period,” said Bern assistant coach Ville Peltonen. “But then we had some penalty trouble in the second period and lost our cool a little bit. Sparta got stronger and stronger as the game went on and we didn’t. We got an opportunity to get back in the third period with the power-play, but that didn’t end well.”
Following a chippy first game in Bern, this game was relatively tame for most of the night, but with a three-goal difference tempers started to flare again in the last few minutes. That didn't have any effect on the final outcome, however, as Sparta's three-goal victory put them through.
About the team's accomplishment, Veber summed up: “We are the first team in the final four but people will remember only the winner, so it’s not even a step, it’s a really small step and we need two more to make the success happen.”