Play marvelously as he will, try hard as he may, Andrei Vasilevski can’t seem to catch a break. And he’d have almost gotten away with it, too! HAD IT NOT BEEN FOR THOSE MEDDLING SWEDES.
Vasilevski and friends, despite controlling the majority of play, fell to Sweden earlier Saturday, running Russia’s record against the Swedes in tournament play to a dismal 1-9 over their last ten meetings. Making matters worse, red-hot goaltender Oscar Dansk stood on his head, denying attempt after Russian attempt en route to a 26-save showing. Vasilevski stopped 19 of 21 shots, making bigger saves than his stat line suggests.
Opening the game for Sweden, captain Filip Forsberg rifled home a one-timed shot on the power-play, latching onto a feed from the Carolina Hurricanes’ Elias Lindholm. Lindholm, shielding the puck from a pursuing Nikita Tryamkin, flipped a backhanded pass towards the left face-off circle, right into Forsberg’s wheelhouse. The captain’s twelfth point of the tournament places him at the helm of the scoring race, one ahead of Canada’s Anthony Mantha.
Both teams would proceed to trade chances, both netminders stonewalling hopeful forwards. The second period came and went, neither team gaining a distinct advantage. Russia, much as they did throughout the contest, controlled the majority of the flow of play, all without avail. Power play chances came and went, only to have Dansk slam the door shut time and time again. Within five minutes of the third, however, Oskar Sundqvist would pull through. Finding a misdirected pass on the tape of his stick, the lanky centerman surged forward, blazing into a clear-cut lane towards the Russian goal. The Russian defensemen, having pinched in the neutral zone to clog up available passing lanes and challenge the puck’s intended target, abandoned their posts along the blue-line; Vasilevski, defending the breakaway, stuck with the Swedish forward through his forehand-to-backhand deke, only to be beaten by an exquisite finish over the blocker.
Russia would soon find an answer; letting loose from near the goal line, diminutive forward Damir Zhafyarov bounced the puck off of the goaltender Dansk, halving the deficit to a total of two goals to one. Following the tally, the Russians swarmed the offensive zone, knocking the Swedes back on their heels, churning out scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity only to see them repulsed time and time again by the magnificent Dansk. Russian skipper Anton Slepyshev nearly knotted things up, beating the Swedish netminder short-side only to have his elevating shot rebuffed by the goalpost. Edmonton Oilers’ draftee Bogdan Yakimov arguably generated Russia’s most lethal opportunity; bearing down the center of the Swedish defense, the hulking pivot let loose a wrister from the slot, only to have the golden ticket to overtime swatted down by Dansk with the authority of a Chris “Birdman” Andersen rejection.
Done in by a scintillating goaltending performance and an ineffective showing from their top-ranked power play, Russia would succumb to their Swedish counterparts. Following the referee’s final whistle, a skirmish erupted along the side-boards, with such extracurriculars as boxing, fencing and mixed martial arts on schedule. As the zebras scarmbled to diffuse the situation, Jesper Pettersson, fresh out of the penalty box, jumped Andrei Mironov from behind, connecting with a straight right or two before the rearguard returned the favor, delivering a textbook DDT after exchanging blows with his sparring partner. A bloodied Mironov, along with his fallen teammates, stood silently as the Swedish flag was raised to the rafters, the operatic tones of the national anthem echoing throughout the Malmo Arena. Russia’s Zhafyarov and Sweden’s Dansk were named Players of the Game. In a change of pace, the IIHF also named each team’s best players of the tournament; Alexander Wennberg, Andreas Johnson and Forsberg earned the honors for the Swedish, along with Vasilevski, Slepyshev and Mikhail Grigorenko for the Russians.
Following their victory, the Swedes turn their collective set of eyes towards Sunday’s gold medal match-up, their opponent to be set following today’s Canada-Finland semifinal. Likewise, the Russians will face the loser of the aforementioned game, battling for the bronze.
Here’s something funny-Sweden boss Rikard Grönborg seemed to have an opinion about every little thing that didn’t go his team’s way. And I mean everything. Griping at the refs after every call and/or non-call. Insinuating a Valeri Vasiliev dive when the defenseman was bleeding from underneath his visor. Even the NHL Network‘s analysts made a point of mentioning his catty behavior.
Nevermind the fact that a forward of yours essentially blindsided an otherwise preoccupied combatant, or that the refs completely blew a delay of game call in favor of your opponent. That’s besides the point.