Darius Pliskauskas fights for the puck in Lithuania's opening victory over Estonia in Belfast.
Clinical play sinks Estonia
The Battle of the Baltic went decisively in Lithuania's favour as the team limited Estonia to just 13 shots in a dominant display on Sunday evening.
Lithuania won its Baltic battle against Estonia, producing a clinical display as it began its quest to improve on three successive bronze medals at this level.
The youngest roster in the competition – average age just 24 – allowed the Estonians few chances at any stage in the game, and once Pijus Rulevicius made the breakthrough in the 15th minute it was hard to see any way that Lithuania might drop this game.
Rulevicius struck on a break out. Paulius Gintautas split the Estonia defence with a diagonal pass that found his team-mate perfectly placed to beat Villem-Henrik Koitmaa from close range.
Head coach Bernd Haake was delighted with the way his team executed the plans they drew up at training camp. "It's just what we practised," he said. "All through our training camp we talked about how we have to get back, bring good back checking, stay up, don't allow the opposition too much. And we did that today."
It was no more than Lithuania deserved after limiting its opponent to just three shots in the opening stanza and that dominance brought more rewards in the middle frame. First, Aivaras Bendzius made it 2-0 when he got on the end of Povilas Verenis’ break down the right to score at the near post as the game reached its midway point. Koitmaa remained the busier of the goalies, and his double save to deny Aimas Fiscevas was a high point on a testing evening for the Dunaujvarosi Acelbikak netminder.
Koitmaa had no answer in the 38th minute, though, when a slip behind the net presented Lithuania with an opportunity for a third goal. Aleksandr Petrov dropped his stick, enabling the Lithuanians to work a three-man combination that ended with Ugnius Cizas finding the net.
In the third period, Estonia took the highly unusual gamble of pulling Koitmaa from his net with 12 minutes on the clock. The teams were playing four-on-four and play was due to restart with a face-off at the Lithuanian end, but the extra man did not lead to scoring chances. Indeed, if Edgar Rybakov had hit the target after an interception on his own blue line, Jussi Tupamaki’s gambit would have backfired. A further penalty on Estonia ended the experiment after one minute, 13 seconds.
Koitmaa got another breather with four minutes left as Estonia had another power play. However, not even a 6-on-4 advantage could bring the team back into contention as Lithuania absorbed the pressure to wrap up a confidence-boosting victory.
"There's a tradition of these tournaments starting with the Baltic rivalry between Lithuania and Estonia, and after we lost to them in the Baltic Cup this was a very big win for us," Haake concluded.