After what I felt like was a really sloppy game for the Russians (that they should have won in the first 12 minutes) against Slovakia, I expected them to raise their game against the Americans.
Russia started off pretty sloppy, earning three icing calls in the first minute and only keeping the game tied with a huge toe save by Andrei Makarov on a three on one. But they drew a fortunate interference call and quickly scored on the ensuing power play with a shot that deflected of an American defender.
One could notice an improvement in their defensive game pretty early on. They took a penalty shortly after scoring the goal, but worked a very strong PK, getting in the shooting lanes and clearing the zone pretty effectively. The heart and dedication to defense was there, and Yaroslav Kosov sold out and blocked a shot at the 12-minute mark, earning him a trip to the locker room.
(I want to take a moment to point out that I feel like the dancing cheerleaders in the neon green behind the American net as play was going on was a little bit distracting, but maybe that’s just me.)
They had three more powerplays in the period, and although they didn’t score, they moved the puck well, found the open man, and for the most part, weren’t afraid to shoot.
Russia had several odd man rushes in the first 35 minutes of the game, including an almost-two on oh, and rang one off the pipe in that span. But after taking a penalty, losing Pavel Koledov from taking a puck to the face, and facing heavy pressure, the chances started to even out. After taking another penalty at the eight-minute mark, Russia was left scrambling in their own end, and the Americans capitalized on a shot that deflected strangely off a Russian forward.
There were some good chances through the first two periods, although it didn’t feel like the goalies had to make too many difficult saves. That changed in the third, though with the goalies having to make big saves, including a header save by Makarov a la Henrik Lundqvist.
Continuing their strong play off the rush, four minutes into the third, Valeri Nichushkin broke through the neutral zone and got around the D protecting the puck well, got to the net, and even though he lost control of the puck, the biscuit managed to find its way to the front of the net, where it was slapped home by Vladimir Tkachyov.
Goals usually energize the team that scores, but it seemed to awaken Team USA instead. They were all over the Russians, forcing the coach to take a regrouping timeout a few minutes later. And that’s when both teams stepped it up and took the game to the next level. The players were into it, the fans were into it, and even the announcers were into it, making for a very exciting final eight minutes of regulation.
It was around the four-minute mark when I realized Makarov’s ridiculously creepy Joker (from Batman) mask. A minute later, Nikita Nesterov made a great stretch pass to send Nikita Kucherov (these Russian names are confusing!) on a breakaway, but was stoned by the US goaltender, John Gibson.
Now, if you remember from last game, Maxim Shalunov took a ridiculously stupid penalty with two minutes left with his team up by one (for which he was suspended one game), and Slovakia tied it on the ensuing powerplay to send it to OT. Again, team Russia took a penalty with about two minutes left up by one goal…but was it really a penalty? Kirill Kapustin gave Blake Pietila a little shove in the back along the boards, and Pietila launches his face into the boards, falls to the ice, looks up to the ref, and then puts his face into the ice and lays there as if he were a professional soccer player. However, Russia’s strong defensive play continued and they managed to hold on for the win.
Nail Yakupov has been a bit disappointing thus far. It feels like he tries to do too much with the puck and the opponents seem to have his number. He would be almost entirely unnoticeable if not for the announcers constantly mentioning his name because of his renown. I’m not doubting his desire or effort, as seen when he threw himself face first into a shot on the final penalty kill, but he hasn’t been the offensive dynamo expected.
Russia’s next game is Saturday once again at 9:00 EST against Team Germany, who was smoked 8-0 by Team USA in the first game, so by the transitive property, the Russians have already won.