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Swiss capitalize on comedy of errors ; Clinch quarters berth after Slovakian gaffes

He had no intentions of scoring none. From the center line, Swiss defenseman Dominik Schlumpf simply dumped the puck toward the Slovakia net so his team could change lines.

Maybe, he thought, the Slovak goalie would panic and freeze the puck. Then, for some bizarre reason, teammates skated toward Schlumpf in euphoria.

"I was like, 'What's going on here?' " Schlumpf said.

Schlumpf's first-period shot had skimmed between the goalie's legs, causing the HSBC Arena crowd to burst into laughter. For Switzerland, it was that kind of day -- far from perfect, but good enough to punch a ticket to the quarterfinal round. Capitalizing on Slovakian gaffes early and relying on its quick-strike offense late, the Swiss won, 6-4, on Thursday.

With 5:54 to go, Swiss forward Samuel Walser scored the game-winner on a rebound, ensuring his team would play meaningful hockey next week. Neither team was particularly overwhelming, but Switzerland held on with six players scoring.

"We had a good start and that was really important," Switzerland coach Richard Jost said. "The momentum was ours."

Early on, all that was missing was a pie to the face. Two eye-sore blunders put Slovakia in a 3-1 hole early.

First, with the game tied at one midway through the first, Schlumpf scored his phantom goal two ZIP codes away from the net. All Slovakia goalie Dominik Riecicky could do was look over to his team bench in disbelief. Riecicky -- only three days removed from a mesmerizing, 47-save display against Germany -- was pulled after the period.

Seven minutes later, Slovakia's Juraj Majdan took the microphone at this comedy hour and his punch line may have been even better. Rewarded a penalty shot after getting lassoed to the ice, Majdan completely whiffed on his attempt. Thirty-five seconds later, Switzerland's Sven Bartschi scored to put his team ahead, 3-1.

"That was huge," said Switzerland captain Nino Niederreiter, who scored a goal. "That gave us the momentum and was definitely key in the game."

Still, Slovakia showed resiliency. The Slovaks found holes in the Swiss defense and chipped away at the lead. Richard Panik roofed a wrister midway through the third to knot the game at 4-4.

"They gave us a little scare," Niederreiter said. "But in the end we got the win."

Walser found himself in the right place at the right time, slamming in a rebound to give his team a 5-4 edge. And an empty-netter by Inti Pestoni preserved the win. An arena spotlight shined on Pestoni as his teammates mauled him.

Switzerland survives to see another day. Next up, Team USA. Topping Slovakia -- with that quarterfinal assurance in hand -- does provide some peace of mind.

"We play USA tomorrow and it'll be a tough game," Jost said. "But we're looking forward to it."

e-mail: tdunne@buffnews.com