HELSINKI – It was almost a shame there had to be a loser in what was arguably the best game of the tournament so far. But there was, as Russia beat the U.S. 5-3 after intense 60 minutes of hockey.
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Russia's Ilya Kovalchuk scored one and added an assist, as did his linemate Alexander Radulov. Paul Stastny scored two for the U.S.
"The U.S. has a great team. They work hard and play well all over the ice. We got a couple of good chances earlier in the third, but their goalie kept them in the game. To me, they seemed a little tired in the third. We knew that, and we tried to play in their zone as much as we could, and we scored two goals," said Kovalchuk.
"It was just a couple of turnovers here and there. When you turn the puck over, whether it’s in the neutral zone, the defensive zone, or behind our goal line, playing a team like that, they’re going to make you pay. And they did," Stastny said.
Yevgeni Medvedev scored the game winner with six and a half minutes remaining in the third period.
Both teams had won their two first games. Team USA beat Austria and Latvia, Russia Latvia and Germany. The Tuesday night special was the first big test for both teams, and yes, it was something special.
The first five minutes of the game presented the mostly-Russian crowd with the tournament’s speediest and most colourful hockey. Neither team sat back and let the other take control of the game, as they traded scoring chances, with the edge going to Russia.
And then there were the goals.
Five minutes into the period, Artyom Anisimov played the puck to the blueline. Denis Denisov sent it straight to Anton Belov who took a slapshot. Drew LeBlanc - the 2013 Hobey Baker Award as the best player in college hockey - tried to block the shot, but the puck hit his stick and was redirected into the net, giving Russia 1-0 lead at 5:23.
Five minutes later, Team USA’s first line got the puck into Russia’s zone. Paul Stastny drove hard to the net, but his shot missed the net. Craig Smith was the first one to the puck, and backhanded it back to the front of the net, and Stastny rammed it in to tie the game at 10:58.
A Russian penalty gave the Americans a great opportunity to get control of the game, and they did. Justin Faulk played the puck to Paul Stastny, who wired a wrist shot from the left faceoff dot, and beat Bryzgalov high on the glove side.
In the next shift, after a breather provided a commercial break, Russia tied the game, after an American turnover in the neutral zone. Alexander Radulov found Ilya Kovalchuk in full speed. Kovalchuk took a few steps over the blue line and scored his fifth goal of the tournament with a snap shot from the slot, 14:04 into the first period.
Russia got into penalty trouble early in the second period, but the Americans couldn’t convert on their two-man advantage. They did push Russia on their heels, and at 27:09 Matt Hunwick one-timed a slap shot from the blueline, and again it was redirected into the net off a defenseman’s stick. Aaron Palushaj was credited with the assist.
"Obviously [the power play] was a bit of a missed opportunity. We weren’t able to capitalize on that one. In a tournament like this, your power play has to be the difference," Hunwick said.
"I took a low shot that might have been deflected by their forward’s stick and it beat Bryzgalov. I was happy to see it go in," he added.
But Russia came back.
Kirill Petrov carried the puck into the offensive zone, dropped it to Sergei Mozyakin behind his back, and Mozyakin sent a saucer pass to the front of the net when Alexei Tereshenko finished the tic-tac-toe play and tied the game from Bishop’s doorstep at 11:19.
In the third period, neither team took any risks, especially as the clock wound down. Russia had the upper hand, and their first line with Kovalchuk. Radulov, and Andrei Loktionov, were always creating havoc in the U.S. zone, but Bishop and the U.S. defence stood their ground.
With 6:22 remaining, Yevgeni Medvedev gave Russia a lead in the game when he slammed in a loose puck through a big scrum in front of Bishop’s net.
Nate Thompson mistakenly sent a no-look backhand pass behind the net, straight to Tereshenko, who tried to force the puck in with a wraparound. Bishop stopped the first shot, but couldn’t get his glove on it, and finally the puck ended up in front of Medvedev.
"They’re a tough team to play against. They play well on the big ice and they were able to spread us out. In the third period, they had way too many 3-on-2’s and kind of put us on our heels," Hunwick said.
With less than five minutes remaining in the game, the Radulov-Kovalchuk duo struck again. Kovalchuk took a loose puck in the corner, and saw Radulov alone at the far post. He sent a saucer pass to Radulov who one-time it topshelf, to make it 5-3.
"They played hard and fast. They played with good energy. It was not easy. There are no easy games here," said Bryzgalov.