QUEBEC CITY – The much hyped Russian team was put to a test in its second game of the tournament against the Czech Republic. Yes, they passed the test with a 5-4 overtime win, but the game was a testament to the hockey sense of the Czech players.
Looking at the two teams’ practices, you’d be excused to think that one of them was the World Champion team, and the other a group of guys in a game of shinny. A group of skilled guys speaking Czech, that is.
But when they turn it on, they really put on a show.
Russia came to the game oozing with self-confidence after their 7-1 blowout over Italy on Friday. They got the first goal at 3:47 when Sergei Zinoviev picked up his own rebound and lifted the puck behind Milan Hnilicka.
Penalties proved to be the Russians’ Achilles heel tonight. All Czech goals were scored on power play. First Patrik Elias scored on a zig-zag goal that had the puck go from Marek Zidlicky to Jaroslav Hlinka to Elias who tipped it in for 1-1, then Ales Kotalik gave the Czechs a 2-1 lead in the first period on a similar play.
When the sold-out Quebec City crowd that has taken the Russians as their adopted home team was waiting for the signal, the puck found its way to Konstantin Gorovikov, who took a backhander that surprised Hnilicka with just 0.3 seconds remaining.
“The key moment in the game was the 5-on-3 when we had a 2-1 lead. If we had scored there, it would have been 3-1, and it would have been a lot tougher for the Russian team to come back,” said veteran defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who went on to praise Patrik Elias.
“He had a big game for us today, and he’s a big leader on our team,” he said.
Russian goalie Alexei Eremenko was injured halfway through the second period, after having ended up on the bottom of a pile of Czech and Russian players. Coach Vyacheslav Bykov said after the game that Eremenko’s injury "in the knee area" would be evaluated by doctors.
Mikhail Biryukov got his break, but soon after entering the game, the 22-year-old goalie from Balashikha in the Russian Superliga, got fooled by Marek Zidlicky’s slapshot that went wide, then bounced off the boards behind the net straight to Elias who tipped it into the empty net for 3-3.
The Czechs were back. Oh yes, they were back. Were they ever even gone? In the first two periods, they outshot the Russians 32-16.
Third period began with both teams waiting for the other guys to blink.
Then the Russians did.
While Gorovikov was sitting in the penalty box, Elias struck again, completing his hat trick.
“We made a couple of mistakes and they’ve got great players who can score on the power play,” said Alexander Ovechkin.
Halfway through the third period, the Russians got their chance. Coach Vyacheslav Bykov sent his big guns to take care of the Russian power play. Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Semin, and Sergei Fedorov cycled the puck around the Czech zone, then sent it to Konstantin Korneyev, who whipped a slapshot past Hnilicka.
In a game that had already everything – goals, speed, skills, hits, even the wave in the stands – it was appropriate that there would be both an overtime and a penalty shot. Ilya Kovalchuk was tripped on a breakaway in the overtime but his wrist shot hit the post.
At 1:50 remaining, Alexei Morozov took a wrist shot from the circle and beat Hnilicka on the stick side to keep the Russians still undefeated in the tournament.
“It was a tight, tight game, and special teams were a big factor,” said Ales Kotalik.
“We’re satisfied with the way we played. We knew it was going to be back and forth. I don’t think the better team won today. Maybe the more lucky team,” he added.