Russia – Japan 3-1 (0-0, 0-0, 3-1)
HAMEENLINNA, Finland – It was close, but in the end, Russia was able to pull out a late 3-1 victory against Japan in preliminary round action at the World Women’s Championship. The game was Russia’s debut at the 2009 event.
Russia ended 40 minutes of offensive frustration with a trio of goals in the third period. Tatiana Burina’s power-play goal 31 seconds into the third period broke the scoring silence and was followed up by Anna Shchukina's eventual game-winner just over seven minutes later.
There were a few tense moments for Russia when Japan pulled to within one with a power-play goal midway through the period when Tomoko Sakagami scored from the side of the crease, but Russia sealed the win when Olga Sosina scored the 3-1 security goal on a slap shot with 1:50 left.
While the two teams, which finished one place apart at last year’s World Championship, were evenly matched on the scoreboard, Russia spent most of the game pressuring the Japanese zone.
The Russians were frustrated by the pesky Japan defense, which blocked shots and thwarted many breakaways, and were also stonewalled by goaltender Azusa Nakaoku, who was solid in net. The best Russian chances came late in the second period when they had two consecutive power-plays, but they couldn’t convert with the extra man.
Japan is winless in its two preliminary round games and is now bound for the relegation round, which will begin on April 8. Meanwhile, Russia will play for first place against the Americans in the three-team Group A tomorrow.
Switzerland – Kazakhstan 1-2 (0-0, 0-1, 1-0, 0-0, 0-1)
HAMEENLINNA, Finland – Newly promoted Kazakhstan provided the first major upset of the World Women’s Championship with a 2-1 shootout win against Switzerland. The Swiss finished in fourth place at last year’s championship.
After Switzerland forced the overtime and shootout with a late third period goal, the Kazakhs rebounded in the shootout when Alena Fux put the game-winner past Swiss goaltender Florence Schelling. The shootout went the distance with five shooters from each team.
Goaltender Darya Obydennova was the key to the Kazakh win. She made 55 saves in the shutout. Schelling had 21 saves in the loss.
Much like in the early game between Russia and Japan, things were scoreless for most of the first two periods as both teams struggled to find their rhythm. Kazakhstan opened the scoring when Natalya Yakovchuk fired the puck from above the face-off circle past Schelling’s glove with 2:41 left in the second period. Overall, the second stanza was best forgotten for the Swiss, who squandered four power-play chances despite out-shooting the Kazakhs 20-5 in the period.
It took awhile, but things improved in the third period for the Swiss when they capitalized on their first power-play chance of the period. Kathrin Lehmann put in the game-tying power-play goal on a rebound with 6:10 left in regulation.
The teams went scoreless in overtime despite power-play chances on both sides, setting up Fux's shootout heroics.
The win keeps Group C wide open as Kazakhstan has a two points after today’s shootout win. Switzerland, with one point, must produce a win against host Finland (three points) tomorrow if it hopes to avoid the relegation round.
Sweden – China 6-1 (2-0, 3-0, 1-1)
HAMEENLINNA, Finland – Sweden won its opening game at this year’s Women’s World Championship with an easy 6-1 win against China.
Sweden scored twice in the first period, the first goal coming from Danijela Rundqvist 6:15 into action. The 2-0 goal in the waning seconds of the period by Elin Holmlov was allowed only after a video replay during intermission showed that the puck had crossed the line.
From that point on, Sweden cruised, putting in another three goals in the second period and adding one last goal in the third for good measure. Holmlov and Erika Holst scored two goals each in the Swedish win.
China did have one minor victory in the game, netting its first goal of the championship when Xueting Qu ended a nearly six-period scoring drought, scoring a two-man advantage goal with 4:56 left in a game.
Valentina Lizana got the win for the Swedes in net, although she only had to face 10 shots. Meanwhile, Chinese goaltender Yao Shi was kept busy again, making 41 saves.
Winless China is now headed to the relegation round, while Sweden will play for first place in Group B against Canada tomorrow in what is perhaps the most anticipated games of the preliminary round.