With a solid 4-0 win over Slovakia, Russia set itself up for a showdown for first place in Copenhagen with Group A-leading Sweden on Tuesday night.
Maxim Mamin and Nikita Gusev scored first-period goals for Russia, and Maxim Shalunov and Ilya Mikheyev added empty-netters. Goalie Igor Shestyorkin recorded his second shutout as the Russians outshot Slovakia 36-23 in front of 7,732 fans at the Royal Arena.
"In the first period it was hard because there were no shots on me," said Shestyorkin. "In the second period I was involved in the game more. I had more to do. The guys did well, blocking a load of shots and helping us to get the win."
Slovakia, which finished 14th last year, no longer controls its own playoff destiny. It has one game remaining against winless Belarus and can finish with a maximum of 11 points. If Switzerland beats France, the Swiss will advance to the quarter-finals. Switzerland blanked Slovakia 2-0 on 6 May.
"Unfortunately, the reality is we didn't get enough points from the games so far," said Slovak captain Andrej Sekera.
Under head coach Craig Ramsay, the Slovaks entered this game ranked 13th out of 16 teams on the power play (15.38 percent), and could not capitalize on three man advantages.
Fighting for their playoff lives, the Slovaks needed to come out hard against the Olympic champions, whom they upset 3-2 in their PyeongChang opener. But it was Russia that went up 1-0 at 11:10 as Mamin backhanded in a loose puck at the side of the net to finish off a rush. It was the 23-year-old Florida Panthers forward’s third goal of these Worlds.
The elusive Gusev, who led February's Olympics in scoring, darted into open ice at the top of the right faceoff circle and one-timed captain Pavel Datsyuk’s backhanded feed past Slovak goalie Marek Ciliak’s left skate to make it 2-0. Gusev now has three points in two games.
"Our first period was good," said Datsyuk.
Russia outshot Slovakia 17-2 in the first period, but Shestyorkin had to come up big to stop Tomas Marcinko on a shorthanded breakaway just seconds before the buzzer.
"The Russians were better than us all over the ice," said Sekera. "They didn't give us anything all game. We spent a lot of time trying to hang in there."
Russia finished off the first period and opened the second period with a two-man advantage for a minute and a half, which usually means a goal is as inevitable as snow in Siberia.
Surprisingly, the Slovaks withstood the storm. They played better in both the second and third periods, but the damage was already done.
"We played well," said Russia's Nikita Zaitsev. "It felt like we were in control of the game. I don’t think we got defensive. We tried to play the same way throughout the game and we should have scored more goals."
The Russians came close to their third goal when Mikhail Grigorenko floated a shot from the line that hit the post and Yevgeni Dadonov was narrowly foiled by Ciliak.
Early in the third period, Russia’s Kirill Kaprizov crashed heavily into the end boards in the Slovak end in a foot race for the puck with Dominik Granak. There were some anxious moments as the trainer was summoned. But the 21-year-old winger, who scored the overtime gold-medal winner for the Russians at the Olympics and leads this team with five goals, would skate off under his own power and return.
Slovakia pulled Ciliak for the extra attacker, but that just enabled Shalunov to slide his third goal of the tournament into the vacated cage with 1:11 left. Mikheyev corralled a bouncing puck for his own empty-net action at 19:44.
"We’d already forgotten about [losing to Slovakia at the Olympics]," said Datsyuk. "We just knew that we had to win this game. It’s good that we get to stay here in Copenhagen. It gives us more time to rest."
Under head coach Ilya Vorobyov, the Russians have shone at both ends of the ice as they quest for their first IIHF World Championship gold medal since Minsk 2014. They have also put together a four-year medal streak (silver 2015, bronze 2016 and 2017). Things are looking good for the Sbornaya as they target Tre Kronor.
"Against Sweden the key thing is not to make mistakes on either blue line," said Datsyuk.