BUFFALO – Artemi Panarin keyed an historic third-period rally with two goals and teammate Yevgeni Kuznetsov added three assists in a five-goal third period that saw Russia erase a 3-0 deficit and take gold medals off the necks of Canadians with a 5-3 victory.
It was the third straight comeback win for the Russians in this tournament, who were one loss away from the Relegation Round less than a week ago.
It’s the first time since 2003 Russia won the U20 gold and the first victory against Canada in six games.
"We simply believed in ourselves," Panarin said. "That’s why we won today, and two days ago, and three days ago."
"We improved each game and we were simply the best team in the end," Kuznetsov said. "We have the Russian character, that’s why we never gave up."
Canada, which played a virtually flawless first two periods to build a convincing 3-0 lead, were wholly unprepared for the Russian assault even after knowing of the two previous comebacks. The defence, which was rock solid through 40 minutes, simply disintegrated, and goalie Mark Visentin, solid as well, wilted under the pressure of the moment (as did most of his teammates).
"We played only 40 minutes, not 60," said Canada's captain, Ryan Ellis. "It’s our fault. We had it in our own hands. It unfortunately got rolling for the Russians after the first two goals. We all learned a lesson. You should never stop playing. Live goes on, we have to get over it."
The comeback simply defied logic. Canada began the game hitting and skating, and the Russians matched them for energy until Canada got the first power play at 4:07 and scored just 43 seconds later. Brayden Schenn made a perfect cross-ice pass to captain Ryan Ellis, who blew a one-timer past goalie Dmitri Shikin from the top of the left faceoff circle.
Canada made it 2-0 with only 13.5 seconds left in the period when Carter Ashton blew a shot past Dmitri Shikin from a bad angle to send the Canadians to the dressing room with added confidence.
"I never saw our coach so angry as after the first period," Panarin said. "He pushed us hard, and we came out flying. It’s an unbelievable win and an unbelievable tournament."
"It was a very emotional speech of our coach," Maxim Kitsyn agreed. "He even broke the blackboard."
Be that as it may, the second period continued as the first ended. Canada was relentless moving the puck up ice and played swarming defence, limiting the chances Visentin had to face in the Canadian net.
Schenn made it 3-0 at 6:27 when the Russian defence left him wide open in front of Shikin. Cody Eakin fed him the puck from the left boards and Schenn hammered a one-timer past the beleaguered goalie. Coach Valeri Bragin pulled Shikin in favour of Igor Bobkov, trying to wake up his team, but the first few shifts right after might have been Canada’s most dominating.
Visentin was tested on a Canada power play, though, when Danil Sobchenko cut in off the right wing and snapped a shot that the goalie nabbed with his glove hand. The Russians had their first power play midway through the period, but although they controlled the puck well, they lacked finish around Visentin.
That set the table for a remarkable final 20 minutes.
The Russians came out with last-ditch desperation that stunned the pro-Canadian crowd. They got on the scoreboard at 2:33 when Panarin drilled a wrist shot over Visentin’s glove. Just 13 seconds later, a Maxim Kitsyn shot dribbled meekly through the goalie's pads and now, in a game in which they controlled for 40 minutes, the Canadians found themselves in a one-goal game with more than 17 minutes remaining.
The Russians completed the comeback at 7:29 when Tarasenko took a brilliant pass from Kuznetsov and buried it to tie the score, 3-3. Tarasenko had to leave the ice earlier due to a rip injury, but continued playing despite of that and his teammates were more than thankful.
The 3-3 goal prompted coach Dave Cameron to call a timeout and settle his troops, but the Russians continued to press and the Canadians were on their heels. Even though the game was tied, it was too little too late for the Canadian coach.
Players on both sides left nothing on the bench, skating with an energy and adrenaline worthy of a gold-medal game. Another defensive breakdown at 15:22 gave the Russians a lead. Panarin redirected a pass in close behind Visentin to silence the crowd and force the Canadians into a desperate situation that the Russians had been in just a few minutes earlier.
The visitors put the icing on the cake at 18:44 when Nikita Dvurechenski beat the overwhelmed Visentin on a partial breakaway.
"It’s hard to say what happened," Visentin offered. "We played well for two periods, then they had two quick goals. We have to give the Russians credit, they have lots of offensive skill. We were positive after two periods, we had a good spirit. We didn’t win silver, we lost gold, so it’s a brutal feeling."
And so, a team that looked so vulnerable in the first day of the event, when Canada swamped it, 6-3, was now world champions for players under 20 years of age. Canada exacted a measure of revenge against the Americans, but an older foe renewed sorrow from a year ago, leaving the team to lick its wounds and wait for next year, when the U20 will move to Calgary and Edmonton.
Until then, Russia – not the United States, not Canada – has bragging rights.