BRATISLAVA – Captain Alexei Morozov scored the third-period winner as Russia beat host Slovakia 4-3 in a see-saw battle to secure second place in Group A Tuesday night.
Russia – Slovakia 4-3 (2-1, 1-2, 1-0) Game Sheet Photos
At 3:38 of the final frame, Morozov swatted a wildly bouncing puck from the top of the crease through Slovak goalie Jaroslav Halak.
Importantly, Russia will carry over three points to the Qualifying Round, while third-place Slovakia enters with zero. Germany is tops in the group and will carry over six points.
"It would have been much harder in the next round had we lost this game," said Russia's Nikolai Kulyomin.
Ilya Nikulin scored twice for Russia and Ilya Kovalchuk was a playmaking catalyst with three assists.
Alexander Radulov also scored for Russia, which prevailed despite seeing starting goalie Yevgeni Nabokov chased midway through the game.
Ladislav Nagy led Slovakia with a goal and an assist, and Miroslav Satan and Marian Gaborik added singles.
"We have to play better as a team," said Slovakia's Milan Jurcina. "We have to attack with five guys and defend with five guys. It was a little better today than in the game against Germany, though."
The pressure continues to mount on the host team in Bratislava that added Anaheim defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky before the game.
The high-tempo first period didn’t belong to the Slovaks, despite a 15-7 edge in shots on goal and the passion of the partisan crowd of 10,340 at Orange Arena. Radulov drew first blood less than a minute in when he took a drop pass from Kovalchuk and beat Halak with a wrister high to the stick side.
The Slovaks had a prompt answer. Thirty seconds later, Satan went hard to the net and batted in a Nagy rebound past Nabokov.
Slovakia continued to test the shaky-looking Nabokov. Marian Hossa nearly beat him with a bad-angle shot from the corner, which Nabokov lost in his skates.
Yet Russia would hold a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes. With 1:56 left in the period, Kovalchuk set up Ilya Nikulin for a center point blast that got inside Halak’s left post.
In the second period, the Russians failed on a two-man advantage that ensued after Lubos Bartecko bloodied Dmitri Kalinin with a high stick.
The Slovaks tied it up on a nice rush just past the midway mark. Pavol Demitra crossed the Russian blueline on the left side and passed the puck to Marian Gaborik, who came down through the slot and deked out Nabokov.
At 12:01, Slovakia went up 3-2 as Nagy raced into the Russian zone and used defenceman Dmitri Kulikov as the screen on a rising shot that squeaked through Nabokov. That was curtains for the Russian starter, whom Bykov replaced with Konstantin Barulin.
Russia had a great chance to equalize when Satan was caught hooking Kovalchuk in the slot, followed by Tomas Surovy accidentally clipping Nikulin in the face on a clearing attempt. Nikulin got his revenge just after the 5-on-3 expired, driving home his second goal on a Kovalchuk set-up to make it 3-3 with 1:50 left in the period. It was just Russia’s second power play goal of this tournament.
The Slovaks had glorious chances to go ahead early in the third. Stumpel missed the open side of the net while standing in the crease, and Surovy zinged one off the crossbar.
Slovak coach Glen Hanlon called a timeout to plot strategy prior to a two-man advantage with 14 minutes left. But nothing cilcked down the stretch for the host team, even with Halak pulled for the extra attacker in the dying moments.
"Maybe it's mentally a little bit easier to prepare for a game against an opponent expected to be tough, so everybody is ready to work hard the whole game," Kulyomin said.
The last time the Russians didn’t finish first in their Preliminary Round group was in Austria 2005, where they came second to Slovakia after the two nations tied 3-3 on May 2.