HELSINKI – Russia blew a 2-0 first-period lead but rallied to thump Austria 8-4 in their round-robin finale. The defending champions will be seeded no lower than third for the quarter-finals. Austria is relegated to Division I for 2014.
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Ilya Kovalchuk paced the attack with a goal and two assists, while Alexander Radulov, Ilya Nikulin, and Sergei Mozyakin had a goal and an assist apiece. Alexander Perezhogin, Sergei Soin, Nikita Zaitsev, and Yevgeni Kuznetsov also scored for Russia, while Alexander Popov and Kirill Petrov each had two helpers.
"I think the schedule's good for us," said Kovalchuk. "We have a couple of days to prepare ourselves for the quarter-final. You can't lose anymore in this tournament."
Thomas Vanek and Michael Raffl replied with a goal and an assist apiece for Austria, and Matthias Iberer and Florian Iberer had the other goals.
It is the fifth time in a row that Austria has been demoted from the elite division. It also happened in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011.
"We didn't start well," said Austria's Raphael Herburger. "We were down 2-0, came back, and took stupid penalties, stupid goals against. You can't play like this against teams like this."
Even though the Russians filled the net, they don’t look as defensively sound as the team that captured gold last year. That has to cause some concern for head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov and his players heading into the quarter-finals.
Shots on goal favoured Austria 36-18. That gave the Russians a remarkable 44.4 shooting percentage.
Goalie Semyon Varlamov, who backstopped Russia to the finals in 2010 (silver versus the Czechs) and 2012 (gold versus the Slovaks), got his third tournament start for Russia.
"There were a lot of shots today, a couple of bad bounces," said Varlamov. "They scored two or three goals that were lucky mistakes, nothing I could do."
For the Austrians, René Swette made his World Championship debut, but he only made it through the first period before getting yanked in favour of number one man Bernhard Starkbaum.
Perezhogin opened the scoring for Russia at 1:25. On the rush, Sergei Mozyakin fed him a perfect cross-ice feed, and he one-timed it through Swette’s legs.
At 8:15, Kovalchuk made it 2-0 on a dazzling three-way passing play. Alexei Tereshenko came in over the blue line and dropped it to Kovalchuk, who worked the give-and-go with Alexander Radulov and one-timed it past a helpless Swette for his eighth goal of 2013.
The New Jersey Devils superstar has looked undisciplined at times in this tournament, but has eclipsed his previous World Championship high for goals (five in 2009).
It looked like the game might already be over, but the Austrians had a few (very quick) surprises up their sleeves.
At 8:53, Austria cut the deficit to 2-1. After Perezhogin misplayed the puck in front of the Russian net, it slid to Robert Lukas, and the rebound from his shot
Just 15 seconds later, the Austrians made it 2-2 on the power play. Vanek fooled Varlamov by deftly tipping home Thomas Pöck’s drive from inside the blue line.
Jimmy Cola, the Hartwall Arena house band, busted out a nice version of “Kalinka”, but the Russians surely weren’t dancing for joy at this point.
With 4:04 remaining in the first, Vanek stepped in off the side boards and sent a hard, low wrister toward the net, which Raffl deflected past Varlamov’s outstretched left skate. Shockingly, Austria was up 3-2.
On a late-period 5-on-3 man advantage, Nikulin knotted the score at 3-3, taking a cross-ice feed from Yevgeni Medvedev and pounding a drive under the crossbar.
Austria outshot Russia 15-5 in the first period.
At 4:50 of the second period, Radulov put Russia up 4-3, stickhandling his way next to the hash marks in the right faceoff circle and unleashing a laser that beat Starkbaum.
Three minutes later, the Austrians had an answer as they tied it up on a fluke goal. Florian Iberer looped into the Russian zone and his attempted centering pass bounced off Nikulin’s left skate and past a helpless Varlamov.
At 11:07, Mozyakin made it 5-4 Russia when he converted the rebound from Nikulin’s point shot.
Starkbaum made a nice save on Artyom Anisimov on a 2-on-1 rush with Kirill Petrov. But it wouldn’t be enough to keep Austria in the game.
With 2:41 left in the second, a shorthanded tally by Soin gave Russia a two-goal gap. He grabbed the puck inside his own blue line and raced down the ice, dangling the puck tantalizingly in front of Florian Iberer in the slot before zinging a wrister past Starkbaum’s glove.
At 1:36 of the third period, Zaitsev made it 7-4 when his right point shot deflected off Robert Lukas and fooled the Austrian goalie. Kuznetsov saved the puck for Zaitsev, as it was the 21-year-old defenceman's first career World Championship goal.
Kuznetsov got the 8-4 goal on a slick one-timer set up by Petrov at 9:38.
"We won the wrong games," said Austria's Herburger. "We played well against Latvia and Slovakia, but lost to Germany and France. Too bad it worked out like this."
Injuries and suspensions took a toll on the lineups. Austria's Daniel Welser was serving a one-game suspension for a stick incident involving Finland's Lasse Kukkonen, while Thomas Koch and Gerhard Unterluggauer were sidelined with injuries. Russia's Yevgeni Ryasenski is done for the tournament with a rib injury, while Alexander Svitov is also out with an injury.
Austria's three best players of the tournament were honoured: Bernhard Starkbaum, Andre Lakos, and Thomas Vanek.