HELSINKI – Slovakia had the misfortune to play Russia after they had been delivered two straight losses in the tournament. The Russian team was eager to get another win, and it did it convincingly, 3-1.
Video: Highlights, Post-Game Interviews
Alexander Radulov scored one and added an assist, while Ilya Bryzgalov made 23 saves for Russia.
"It wasn’t easy, especially the first 20 minutes. We were a little nervous. They were playing really well on the counterattack and we lost the puck a couple of times in the neutral zone, so they created a couple of good chances.
"But our goalie played really well. I think Bryz was our best player tonight for sure," said Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored his tournament-leading seventh goal in the game.
“We played well in the first period, but once they scored their first goal, they took over the game,” said Slovakia coach Vladimir Vujtek.
Russia hadn’t lost a World Championship game to Slovakia since 2004, and had beat them in three straight tournaments – including last year when the teams played in the final in the same arena. Russia won the game 6-2, and ended their night in a gold medal celebration.
This time, no medals were handed out, but again, Russia left the team with the points.
Russia’s coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov had given the nod to goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov again, his third start of the tournament, after Vasili Koshechkin and Semyon Varlamov had played in the two losses against France and Finland, respectively.
Bryzgalov was stellar in net for Russia, making 23 saves, eleven of them in the first period when Slovakia outshot Russia 11-6. Slovakia created several good scoring chances in the first period, but either hit the goal frame, or Bryzgalov made a save.
In the second period, Russia’s first power play unit with Alexander Radulov and Ilya Kovalchuk got the chance they had been waiting for.
Ilya Nikulin’s shot was blocked by the Slovak defence, but Yevgeni Medvedev got to the loose puck first. He passed it two metres to the right to Radulov, whose shot from the face-off dot found its way to the back under Janus’s arm at 5:36, giving Russia the 1-0 lead in the game.
A few shifts later, Radulov had the puck in the Slovak corner. He battled with Slovakia’s Andrej Sekera, who lost his balance a little, and that half a step was all Radulov needed. He drove to the net, trying to slam the puck in, but Janus made a save.
Kovalchuk had anticipated the play, and while Radulov drove the net, he moved the opposite direction – where the rebound landed. Kovalchuk went top-shelf from the top of the crease, and Russia had a two-goal lead at 11:44.
The Russians got another power-play opportunity late in the second period. They moved the puck around the Slovak zone, but when Kovalchuk’s pass to Nikulin came to the defenceman’s backhand, Branko Radivojevic could poke it out of the zone. Nikulin stumbled after the puck, but Radivojevic won the race, and then beat Bryzgalov with a quick wrist shot high on the glove side with just 16 seconds remaining in the period.
The goal gave Slovakia new hope, and they came to the third period energized. Five minutes into the period, Denis Denisov let the air out of the Slovak balloon, when his wrister from the right face-off circle went right through Janus, giving Russia a two-goal lead again.
“Unfortunately, our goalie’s mistake gave them a two-goal lead again, and it was uphill for us,” said Vujtek.
"You’ve got to be good to be lucky. When you put the puck on net, anything can happen. You know, the goalie, he’s not the Iron Man. He’s got some nerves too. We put a lot of pressure on him. He made some great saves before, but then he gave up one. So we’ll take it," said Kovalchuk.
Slovakia got another power-play opportunity when Ilya Kovalchuk got a high-sticking double minor when his stick hit Sekera’s face as he was trying to go around the Slovak defenceman.
"It was a real stupid play by me. I should have just put the puck in the corner and changed. But I tried to be all fancy and tried to bring my stick on the other side and cut [Sekera] on the lip. It’s an accident. These things happen," Kovalchuk said.
However, Slovakia couldn’t convert, and Russia added three points to their total.
Russia will play again tomorrow, against Austria.
"It’s the last test before the quarter-finals, so we’ve got to be sharp right from the start," Kovalchuk said.
Slovakia will play their last preliminary round game on Tuesday, against the US, and only a win will do.
"There’s still a chance, right? We’re going to have to wait and see how the other games end up. We still have to win our last game. We’re going to be fighting till the end," Branko Radivojevic said.