BRATISLAVA – Ilya Kovalchuk's first goal of the tournament at 12:19 of the third period gave Russia a 2-1 win tonight over Canada at Orange Arena and the final spot in tomorrow night's semi-final game against Finland.
It was another classic game that pitted the individual skill of Russia against the determined team play of Canada. On this night, the Russians prevailed by the slimmest of margins although they trailed 1-0 after two periods.
Canada-Russia 1-2 (0-0, 1-0, 0-2) Game Sheet Photos
"It's always a great rivalry between Canada and Russia," Kovalchuk said, "and they've got a great, young team with a lot of emotions. The most important was the win and to go through to the semi-final. It doesn't matter who scores the goals. We showed a lot of character. We had some guys who played on two lines, and our goalie was outstanding tonight."
Canada failed to hold another lead against their greatest rivals. In the gold-medal game of 2008, also coached by Ken Hitchcock, Canada had a 4-2 lead only to sit on the two-goal cushion in the final period and watch Kovalchuk tie the score in regulation and win it in overtime. Ditto in 2009, when Canada had a 1-0 lead, also on a Jason Spezza goal, and ended up losing gold to Russia, 2-1.
"Both teams played their hearts out," Hitchcock said. "We made a bad mistake while we could have stretched our lead to 2-0. The difference in the game was at the end of the day some of the best players of Russia stepped up at the end of the game. It was a great game. Both teams deserve a lot of credit."
Russia's coach, Slava Bykov, echoed those sentiments. "It was one of our best games at this tournament. The Russia-Canada games are always interesting. It’s a pity to have this clash of such big hockey nations already in the quarter-finals because one team has to go home early, but we’re happy that we won and we will keep our good mood."
The winning goal came when Alexander Radulov swung in behind the Canadian net and spotted Kovalchuk in the slot. The quick shot beat Jonathan Bernier between the pads as he slid across the crease. Bernier had been excellent all night, although Canada held a wide margin in shots, 37-20.
Although scoreless, the first period was a chance-filled 20 minutes with great goaltending and a little lack of touch around the net. Luke Schenn pinched on one play, went deep, and got the puck to John Tavares. Tavares ripped a shot headed for the corner until Konstantin Barulin flicked out his glove.
On a Russian power play, one of only two penalties in the period, Alexander Radulov fed Alexei Tereshenko out front, but Bernier made a great save of his own.
It would be fair to say that Canada had a substantial edge in puck possession (thanks to winning one-on-one battles as well as domination in the faceoff circle, which continued all night), but the Russians had an edge in excellent scoring chances. Bernier stopped Tereshenko again a few minutes later, getting his shoulder on a shot, but the play of the period belonged to Canadian defenceman Brent Burns.
James Neal fell at the Russian blueline and coughed up the puck, creating a two-on-one for Radulov and Kovalchuk. Radulov made the pass across, but Burns tipped the puck out of harm’s way.
The second period was an explosion of speed, skill, great saves – and blood. Bernier was nothing short of sensational in the early going when the Russians came out with a furious attack to start. He made one jumping, shoulder save, and the puck bounced to defenceman Alex Pietrangelo who spotted Spezza behind everyone. Spezza drifted in on goal and ripped a wrist shot between Barulin’s pads at 5:32 to give Canada a 1-0 lead.
Less than half a minute later, Travis Zajac took a slashing penalty, and the Russians had several good scoring chances, Bernier stopping every one of them. Midway through the period, the game got out of hand.
On a scramble in front of the Russian goal Kovalchuk fell to the ice after getting clipped by a stick. The referee called Tavares for four minutes, but replays clearly showed a Russian stick doing the damage.
During the ensuing power play, defenceman Marc Methot put his stick out front of an Alexander Ovechkin snap shot in the slot. The puck went off his stick and hit him in the nose, causing a lengthy delay while the crew scraped more blood off the ice. The break acted as a nice timeout for Canada.
Although the referees put away their whistle in the first, they called seven minors in the second, resulting in a choppier second half of the middle period. Barulin wasn’t as busy as Bernier, who kept the score 1-0 for Canada through 40 minutes.
The game came to a standstill at 1:56 of the third. Defenceman Ilya Nikulin took a point shot that beat Bernier, hit the underside of the crossbar, and fell on the red line. A lengthy video review showed that the puck did not fully cross the line, and Canada got a fortuitous – but correct – call.
Russia tied the game on an unusual situation. Canada, on the power play, had the puck in the Russian end for so long that all five players were exhausted when Alexei Kaigorodov got the puck inside his blueline. He merely chipped the puck twice past tired opponents, went in alone on goal, and beat Bernier to the stick side with a perfect shot at 9:07. The momentum swing was irrevocable.
"The goal that Kaigorodov scored was unbelievable," Maxim Afinogenov said. "It changed the momentum of the game."
Canada's captain Rick Nash agreed. "We kind of shot ourselves in the foot. The shorthanded goal was a tough one. They had the momentum. We had a little defensive zone breakdown, and they got two goals. It was just a bad 10 minutes. It was unfortunate it was the last 10 minutes of the game."
Canada stopped its aggressive play in the final period but also failed to score on either of two power plays, setting the stage for the Russians to roar back and advance to the semi-finals.
"It’s an awful feeling," said defnceman Dion Phaneuf, one of the best players all night. "We came here to win, and we came up short. It’s very disappointing. Give them credit. They played well. We knew coming in that the team that made the least mistakes was going to win this game, and we made mistakes that cost us."