ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- The international hockey stage has not been kind to Germany over the years, particularly when it comes to the IIHF World Championship.
The last time a German team medaled in the tournament was 1953, when West Germany won the silver. That followed bronze medals for Germany in 1932 and 1934.
Germany hasn't even reached the World Championship quarterfinals since 2011, but that absence will end Thursday at the 2016 IIHF World Championship. After finishing third in Group B with 13 points, Germany, led by goaltender Thomas Greiss (New York Islanders), will face host Russia at Ice Palace in Moscow for a chance to compete for a medal.
On Sunday, a last-minute goal by defenseman Korbinian Holzer (Anaheim Ducks) gave Germany a 3-2 win against the United States in a preliminary-round game, vaulting the Germans into the quarterfinals.
Germany began the 2016 tournament with a 3-2 shootout loss against France, then lost 5-1 to Finland. But despite the poor start, forward Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton Oilers) said he liked what he saw.
"We lost both games but we played some good hockey for some good stretches," he said after the loss to Finland. "We just have to make sure we bear down on our chances and maybe tighten up in the [defensive] zone a little bit. I think other than that, we've actually played some decent hockey."
The turnaround began in their next game, a 5-1 win against Slovakia.
"I think [Slovakia], for us, was the turning point," said Germany coach Marco Sturm, who played 14 seasons in the NHL. "We had to win this game to move forward. The guys played their best game, one of the best games I've seen, and they answered right away."
The Germans lost 5-2 to Canada in their next game, which was tied 2-2 after two periods.
Greiss, 30, arrived in time to be the backup against Canada. After getting acclimated, he was in goal for the final three games, wins against Belarus (5-2), the U.S. and Hungary (4-2).
Greiss traveled to Russia after playing an NHL career-high 41 regular-season games and starting all 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games for the Islanders.
"Coming here after the long season speaks to his character and his will to contribute to the country," Holzer said. "We're very lucky and happy that he's here."
Said Germany captain and 10-year NHL veteran Marcel Goc, "We know he [Greiss] is a good goalie, but so are our other two that are here. I thought that [Timo] Pielmeier did a great job for us at the start. Now Thomas is our No. 1, and so far he has done everything he can to help us."
Germany's success has come despite losing three players to injury during the tournament, among them forward Tobias Rieder (Arizona Coyotes), who sustained a lower-body injury in a collision with Canada forward Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks).
"It's a tough loss for us," Goc said. "He's a skilled player, he's very fast and boosts our team speed."
Forward Gerrit Fauser is out after aggravating a shoulder injury, and defenseman Torsten Ankert has a hip injury.
"It's time for us to step up and play for those guys as well," Goc said.
Germany's strong play this year bodes well for next year, when Cologne will host one of the preliminary groups. Germany and France will share host duties.
As co-host, Germany was guaranteed a spot in the 2017 World Championship regardless of how it played this year. But that didn't change their effort level.
"A lot of people said we didn't have any pressure coming into the tournament because we knew we couldn't get relegated," Holzer said. "On the inside of the locker room, we knew we want to play good hockey and prepare for next year.
"I think we're at a point where a lot more people back home notice that this team can play and is exciting to watch. I think we're definitely in the right direction, but we're far from being done."