But what a difference 24 hours makes! One night, everything goes in; the next night? Not so much. Russia's puck luck in a 6-0 win over Canada was nowhere to be found tonight, and U.S. goalie Spencer Knight stole the show with solid, rebound-free goaltending.
The Americans have now won the last five meetings between the teams, with Russia’s most recent win coming nearly four years ago.
The U.S. will finish its round robin with a blockbuster game tomorrow night against hosts Czech Republic. Russia has a day off before playing Germany on Tuesday, the final day of the preliminary round.
"There are a lot of things that went into this win, a lot of blocked shots that should be noted," added Cole Caufield. "It was a good team win, and we're proud of it. We were kind of feeling things out in the first period, and it was great to get those two late goals in the second to give us momentum."
"I think we played well today, pretty much as well as last night," said Russian Alexander Khovanov. "We had a lot of chances to score and the U.S. got some good bounces, but we hit a couple of posts and their goalie was good."
The U.S. was playing after a day’s rest, but the first period was a fairly tentative one as neither team took many chances. The four power plays, two both ways, yielded no goals and precious few good chances, although Knight had more tougher saves than Amir Miftakhov, who posted the shutout 24 hours earlier.
Rumours of physical hockey being dead were greatly exaggerated, though, as the boys threw their weight around with liberal abandon all game long.
"We knew it wasn't going to be a cakewalk out there," Robertson acknowledged. "It's a physical tournament and you have to adjust. We added some physicality to our game, for sure."
"It's always physical when you play Russia," Caufield said. "It's fun. It's exciting. They're a good team. There's a lot of battling out there and that gets us going and makes it more competitive."
The turning point came late in the period during a U.S. power play, one of four they enjoyed in the middle 20 (the Russians had three). The Russians broke out after a turnover and created an odd-man rush, and Maxim Sorkin found himself taking a cross-ice pass looking at an empty net. He failed to connect, however, and the Americans came down the ice and scored.
If you could program a computer to design a goal for this U20 U.S. team it would tell you Trevor Zegras is going to make the pass and Arthur Kaliyev is going to score on the one-timer. And that’s what happened. At 16:41. For a 1-0 U.S. lead.
But while fans were either celebrating or booing, as appropriate for the teams they were cheering, the Americans created a two-on-one off the faceoff. Oliver Wahlstrom made a pass over to Robertson, and it bounced off his stick, off a defenceman, and over Miftakhov’s stick. The two goals came just six seconds apart, tying the U20 record for fastest two goals by a team.
"We were fortunate off the draw, and Wally [Wahlstorm] got the puck and made the pass to me. I just tapped it and it bounced in. It was a good time," Robertson explained.
The U.S. got a fortuitous goal just 1:20 into the third courtesy of the Zegras-Kaliyev combination again. This time Zegras made a deft little tip at his blue line to get the puck to Kaliyev. He went in on goal and used defenceman Yegor Zamula as a screen before firing a long shot. Miftakhov muffed it, and with a 3-0 deficit coach Valeri Bragin pulled his goalie for Yaroslav Askarov.
The Russians responded well, making a nice three-way passing play in the U.S. end with Alexander Romanov rifling a shot past Knight to make it 3-1. Nikita Alexandrov and Danil Zhuravlyov got the nice helpers on that one, but that was as close as Russia got. The Americans did a sensational job playing with the lead, and they now sit in top spot of Group B.
Zegras is now tied for the tournament lead in scoring with no goals and leading 7 assists. Finland's Patrik Puistola also has 7 points in three games.