STOCKHOLM – Clearly, Russia’s thriving under the new tournament format for 2012. The Stockholm group leaders completed a perfect round-robin by defeating Italy 4-0 on Monday. The last-place Italians are relegated for 2013.
Russia will face either Norway or the Czech Republic in Thursday’s quarter-finals.
"We played the game we had to play," said Russian head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov. "There was not a lot of pressure against Italy, but we got a positive result and the one we were hoping for."
"It was our goal to stay up," said Italian defenceman Nicholas Plastino. "It's upsetting we didn't achieve our goal."
Yevgeni Kuznetsov led the charge with a goal and an assist in Russia’s seventh straight regulation win, and Alexander Perezhogin had two helpers. Pavel Datsyuk, Yevgeni Biryukov, and Alexander Popov added singles.
It was Russia's second straight game with no goals allowed. The last goal against was Johan Franzén's 3-1 marker for Sweden at 9:36 of the second period in Russia's 7-3 win on Friday.
The Russians had superior speed, skill and strength, and it was only a matter of time before those attributes carried the day. An Italian fan’s sign in the crowd read, “World’s Best Pizza,” which didn’t reflect high hopes for an Azzurri upset.
"I am very proud of our guys," said Italian head coach Rick Cornacchia. "They battled hard and played with heart. Unfortunately we don't have the goal-scorers who can get the timely scores."
After a tepid start, the Russians got going with Datsyuk’s second goal of the tournament at 9:25. He accepted a nice centering pass from behind the goal line by Kuznetsov, stickhandled into the slot, and beat Tragust with a high wrister blocker side.
There were more Russian first-period chances, but they just didn’t bear down, and even gave the Italians some odd-man rushes, while outshooting them 15-8.
Bilyaletdinov replaced starting goalie Semyon Varlamov to start the second period, giving Mikhail Biryukov his first action of the tournament.
"It was our plan to replace our goaltender," said Bilyaletdinov. "We talked about it and decided to make a change at some point in the game."
At 4:28 of the second period, Russia took a 2-0 lead when Nikolai Kulyomin’s pass on a 2-on-1 gave Kuznetsov a clear path to the net and his quick stick-side release found the twine.
Less than four minutes later, Yevgeni Biryukov’s shot from inside the blueline made it 3-0, tipped in by an Italian defender.
In the third period, with 6:22 left, Perezhogin pounced on an Italian turnover behind the net and centered it to Popov, who zinged one past Tragust from the right faceoff circle.
"They are loaded with talent and it was going to be an uphill battle," said Plastino. "We wanted to keep the score close, but a couple of bounces didn't go our way, and we paid for our mishaps."
In 10 all-time World Championship meetings, Italy has never defeated Russia. Its best result was a 2-2 tie at the 1993 tournament in Germany.
After this game, Italy's three best players of the tournament were honoured: goalie Daniel Bellissimo, defenceman Matt de Marchi, and forward Giulio Scandella.