BERNE – Russia's drive to repeat is still alive. On a late power play goal by Konstantin Gorovikov, the defending World Champions beat the Americans 3-2 at PostFinance Arena in the semi-finals and moved on to a gold medal showdown with Canada.
Alexander Radulov stepped into the right faceoff circle and zinged a shot through traffic with 1:47 left, and it deflected in off Gorovikov. Radulov flourished his stick in a demonstrative celebration in the neutral zone as the building erupted with Russian cheers.
"The winning goal hit 21 [Gorovikov] in the back and then went in the other direction," said US coach Ron Wilson. "We weren't lucky, but I thought we played outstanding. It was a great team effort. We came here to win a medal. Once we get over this disappointment, it's time to get ready for the bronze game."
After earning its first title in 15 years in Quebec City in 2008, Russia is looking to win back-to-back golds for the first time since 1989 and 1990. Both of those titles were captured under the banner of the Soviet Union.
It'll be a rematch of last year's final with Canada, where Russia prevailed 5-4 on Ilya Kovalchuk's OT winner.
The USA's all-time record in semi-final action fell to two wins and five losses. It still has a shot at its first World Championship medal since 2004's bronze in the Czech Republic. Historically, Russia has beaten the USA 30 times at the Worlds, with four losses and one tie.
"The US played smart defensively," said Russian blueliner Denis Grebeshkov. "They're not very experienced, but you wouldn't have known that from the way they played today."
Kovalchuk had a goal and an assist, tying him temporarily with Canada's Martin St. Louis for the tournament points lead (14), and Alexander Frolov also scored for Russia. Dustin Brown and Kyle Okposo replied for the USA.
Ilya Bryzgalov outduelled Robert Esche in goal as Russia outshot its opponents 23-20.
The win represented a kind of vindication for Bryzgalov. He was in goal at the 2000 IIHF World Championship when Esche backstopped the US to a 3-0 round-robin victory in St. Petersburg, and Russia ended up with a worst-ever 11th-place finish on home ice.
"Not only is Kovalchuk playing really well, but so are others, like Bryzgalov," said Russian coach Vyacheslav Bykov. "We had a good game tonight, and it's good once again to be in the finals."
The Russians took it to the Americans after the opening puck drop, forcing Esche to make several good close-in saves. Later, they hemmed the Americans in their own end. The heavily pro-Russian crowd of 11,057 was energized, and Esche gave up some juicy rebounds. However, the first-period shots on goal only favoured Russia 7-6, and the USA maintained a good defensive posture.
At 3:46 of the second period, Brown grabbed a sloppy outlet pass by Vitali Atyushov, stickhandled in on Bryzgalov, and beat the goalie five-hole to make it 1-0.
But Russia had a response. At 11:20, Kovalchuk made it 1-1 with a lightning slapper right off a faceoff in the USA end.
And the superstar NHL winger continued to dance, testing Esche with his unbelievable release. With 5:35 left in the period, Kovalchuk burst into the USA zone, cut right and fired left from the slot. This wasn't his best shot, but Frolov deflected it past Esche on the blocker side for a 2-1 lead.
Yet before Russia could seize all the momentum, Okposo neatly snapped a cross-ice pass from John-Michael Liles past Bryzgalov, just after an Alexei Tereschenko minor for diving had expired, and the game was tied again at 18:03 of the second.
"It felt good to score," said Okposo. "Our line had been scored on a few times, so we owed a little bit."
Early in the third period, the Russians thought they had scored at the end of an Oksopo slashing minor when the red light flashed and the crowd roared, but Atyushov's point shot actually went off the outside of the net.
Next, the Americans tried to pull ahead on a power play of their own, but came no closer than an Okposo one-timer that rang off the outside of the post.
The teams traded chances down the stretch. Russia couldn't capitalize on a puck deflecting off a skate in the crease or a 2-on-1 shorthanded break. At the other end, Jason Blake cut to the net and put a backhand off the post.
The tension mounted, and after a flurry of glorious Russian chances near Esche's cage, T.J. Oshie was sent off for hooking with 4:29 remaining. Atyushov, Kovalchuk, and Nikulin tested the American netminder with point drives, but Esche was equal to the test. Only the Radulov-to-Gorovikov combo proved his undoing.
With Esche pulled for an extra attacker, Patrick O'Sullivan had a last-second chance to tie it but fired high and wide as the Americans fell short.
Kovalchuk and Okposo were, fittingly, named the Players of the Game.
The USA's three best players of the tournament were announced: David Backes, Dustin Brown, and Ron Hainsey. For Russia, it was Oleg Tverdovsky, Oleg Saprykin, and Ilya Kovalchuk.
After falling one goal short, the Americans may regret not adding Zach Parise to their lineup. The New Jersey Devils forward led all USA players in NHL goals (45) and points (94) this year, and was willing and available to join the World Championship squad. However, the Americans went ahead and filled their roster before Parise could be brought over to Switzerland.
Russia beat the USA 4-1 earlier in this tournament, while the last American World Championship victory over Russia was 3-2 on May 1, 2004. The USA hasn't won gold at this tournament since 1933, and that drought will continue for at least another year.
"We're going to build off our effort level from this game," said Okposo, looking ahead to the bronze medal game. "This was as hard as our team has played all tournament. We gave 100 percent all over the ice, and if we do it again on Sunday, I'm confident of our chances."