It was never meant to be easy for Russia; playing back-to-back games, and having to beat the defending champions, Sweden, to advance to the gold-medal game.
Continuing with the theme of yesterday’s game – penalties – Nikita Kucherov took a hooking penalty a minute into the game, but Russia killed it off. But Pavel Koledov took down Swede captain Filip Forsberg five minutes after to give Sweden another powerplay, and they didn’t waste any time putting it in, as Vladmir Tkachyov got caught chasing the puck in the corner and found himself out of position. Just as they put up the graphic for the shots being 5-0 Sweden after the first half of the period, Forseberg cut to the slot with the puck the fired it in. 2-0. Andrei Vasilevski had to make a good save after some great puck and body movement by Sweden, and then he had to make another tight-in save shortly after; Russia just didn’t seem to be able to cover the fast-moving Swedes. Then shots were 8-0. They just couldn’t get it out of their zone. Zero puck possession for Russia, all of it for Sweden.
Russia’s first shot came 15 minutes in by Tkachyov on a wraparound…but not really: After further review, the goalie didn’t even have to make a save; it hit the side of the net. Artyom Sergeyev broke his stick in the offensive zone, and stayed on the ice without a stick for a good 30 seconds; nobody thought about giving him a stick, so Sweden was able to just hang out in Russia’s end. Sweden had several more good chances in the period, but didn’t score. Shots after one were, officially, 14-2, but neither of Russia’s “shots” were actually on target, and nearly every one of Sweden’s shots were quality, with many coming from the slot. The game could have already been over if not for the great play of Vasilevski.
Sweden picked up where they left off, hitting a post a minute into the second. It just seemed like Sweden could carry the puck wherever they wanted in Russia’s end, including right into the low slot. Russia’s FIRST ACTUAL SHOT OF THE GAME came off a spinning attempt by Yevgeni Mozer, just 26 minutes into the game. Russia got their *gasp* second real shot of the game 90 seconds from a slapper by Andrei Mironov, and it went in! It deflected off the Swede defender, who inadvertently made a tremendous deflection while trying to block the shot, and bounced over Niklas Lundstrom’s pads. And somehow, Russia found themselves within one. Anton Slepyshev had a chance to tie it, but missed the net on the wide-open shot. Jacob de la Rose of Sweden went off for a shot to the head (and to the blindside) of Kirill Kapustin – only for two minutes, but it could have been more. Kapustin was OK.
Russia almost tied it again off the rush on a shot by Danil Zharkov that went off the arm and then the post, and the team nearly did it again on some pretty tic-tac-toe passing. The game seemed to turn around entirely after the de la Rose penalty. The teams traded chances in the last five minutes of the period, and the Russians found themselves within one going into the third.
The period started off the most of the first half of the game was played, with the Swedes just easily walking into the middle of the ice and getting quality chances. The Russian defenders were giving them all sorts of space. Nail Yakupov continued his streak of trying to do way too much and trying to beat every single defender in the rink, including those on the bench and on his team, and failing. But eight minutes into the period, the Russian skater MVP of the tournament, Mikhail Grigorenko found himself all alone with a loose puck in front of the net after a scramble, and he backhanded it over Lundstrom’s pad; and by some miracle of the hockey gods, Russia had found themselves in a tie game. Later, Kucherov found himself all alone in the slot, five feet from the goalie, on a mini 3-on-2, but he tried passing it off to Grigorenko, who was tied up by the defender. With five minutes left, Yakupov finally beat all those defenders on one rush, and got off a nice backhander from the middle of the ice, but it didn’t go in. The final few minutes of the third were intense, as one might expect, and #Tkachov ripped one of the pipe with a minute left. But for the second night (or morning depending where you are) in a row, Russia headed to overtime.
The first thing that crossed my mind was, please don’t let this game be decided by a shootout, the ultimate sham. But, sadly, that’s what happened. In a game where Russia found themselves lucky enough just to make it to overtime, they would now have their fate decided by, essentially, the flip of a coin.
Once again, the shootout rules are that after three rounds, teams may use any of their players, including those that have already shot, and as many times as they’d like. Mikael Vikstrand on Sweden fanned on his shot and chipped it wide. Grigorenko was stoned. Victor Rask (Sweden) was denied by Vasilevski. Yakupov, in a chance to redeem himself for his poor play, was also stopped. There was no denying Sebastian Collberg’s goal, as the puck got stuck in the top of the net. Kucherov needed to score to keep Russia alive in the tournament, but he failed, ending Russia’s bid for the gold.
I suppose that everything worked itself out, though, because Sweden was clearly the better team, and Russia just didn’t meet expectations in either of their playoff games. They will have a chance for some redemption in the bronze medal game against Canada, which will take place on Saturday, Jan. 5, bright and early at 4 a.m. EST.