BERNE – Russia edged Switzerland for top spot in Group B with a hard-fought 4-2 win at PostFinance Arena on Sunday. Alexei Morozov notched the spectacular winning goal with 11:32 left.
It took a long time, but Russia's finely honed offensive instincts finally overcame the Swiss defence. A turnover at the Swiss blueline sprang Morozov on a 2-on-1 rush with Ilya Kovalchuk, and they worked the give-and-go to perfection. Morozov, captain of the KHL champion Ak Bars Kazan, gave goalie Martin Gerber no chance on the glove side.
"We saw two great teams and a really nice atmosphere," said Russian head coach Slava Bykov. "I wasn’t surprised at all about the Swiss performance. We tried to take advantage of their mistakes, and we were successful."
It was the fourth straight year that Russia has led its Preliminary Round group. It boasts a perfect record with three wins in Berne.
"This was exactly the kind of game we needed to get ready for the next games," said Russian defenceman Oleg Tverdovsky. "Scores like 5-0 and 7-2 aren't good. You start to get away from the little things that need to be done right."
Kovalchuk finished with a goal and two assists, and Vitali Atyushov and Alexander Perezhogin also scored for Russia. Ryan Gardner and Martin Plüss replied for the host team, and Ivo Rüthemann added a pair of assists.
In the battle of former Anaheim backup goalies, Ilya Bryzgalov prevailed as Switzerland outshot Russia 39-24.
"We saw that we can play with one of the World Championship favourites," said Swiss head coach Ralph Krueger. "That’s the message for today. Getting almost 40 shots on their goal is a success. It’s the best game we've ever had against Russia, even better than the victories in 1998 or 2000, where we couldn’t keep up and won because of great goaltending."
Russia grabbed a 1-0 lead at 2:19 when Kovalchuk fed a perfect pass to Atyushov in the right faceoff circle, and he one-timed it past the helpless Gerber's glove. On other occasions, this might have sparked a rout like Russia's 6-0 thrashing of Switzerland in the 2008 quarterfinals.
Yet the Swiss kept coming, and the flag-waving home crowd didn't relent with their chants of “Hopp Schwiiz!” They also whistled with lusty derision when captain Mark Streit was shaken up in the Swiss end on an Alexander Frolov high stick.
It didn't take long for the Swiss to capitalize on the ensuing mid-period power play. Rüthemann went hard to the net with the puck and Gardner banged in the rebound to make it 1-1. It was the first goal Bryzgalov had allowed in the tournament, ending his shutout streak after 69:46 minutes.
Swiss chances abounded as they outshot Russia 13-6 on the period. When Ilya Nikulin fell over inside the Swiss blueline, it set up a 2-on-1 rush for the host team, but although Severin Blindenbacher sent a sweet feed across to Roman Josi, Bryzgalov made a great sprawling save.
The defending champs killed off a delay-of-game penalty after Bryzgalov's clearing attempt went over the glass, but they weren't so lucky the next time. With Switzerland on the power play, Plüss got walloped at the blueline with a trip from Atyushov. With a delayed minor coming up to the Russian defenceman, Plüss got up, took a great pass from Streit, and scored into Bryzgalov's gaping cage at 17:17.
The Russians picked up the pace in the middle frame. Sergei Zinoviev busted down right wing and fed a cross-ice pass to Kovalchuk, who delayed before zinging a wrister under the crossbar to tie the game at 9:08 of the second.
Russia dominated the rest of the period in terms of puck possession, but couldn't pull ahead. A disciplined and determined Swiss defensive effort kept the score even. With under two minutes in the period, Andres Ambühl had the best Swiss chance when he cut to the net off right wing and almost shoveled the puck past Bryzgalov's right pad.
After Morozov made it 3-2 Russia in the third, Oleg Saprykin nearly added to his team's lead, hitting the post at close range. The Swiss pressed furiously in the dying minutes, adrenalized by the full-throated cheers of their fans, but couldn't find the equalizer. With 15 seconds left, Perezhogin added an empty-netter after stripping Streit of the puck at the Russian blueline.
"Close is not good enough," said Gardner. "Not getting points doesn't help us, but we got some confidence out of the game. We know that we can play against any team here. We just gotta keep going like we did in the first and third periods tonight."
Morozov and Plüss were named Players of the Game for their respective teams.
The last time Switzerland beat Russia was 3-2 in St. Petersburg 2000. The first-ever Swiss win came on home ice at the 1998 tournament in Basle, by a 4-2 count.