Ivan Morozov scored in overtime to give Russia a 5-4 semi-final win over Sweden and a berth in the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship gold medal game.
Morozov powered over the Swedish blue line, cut around defenceman Rasmus Sandin, and snapped a quick shot past goalie Hugo Alnefelt's glove at 3:24. It was the SKA-Neva St. Petersburg forward's second goal of the game and Russia's 44th shot on net.
"It was an incredibly tough game for us," Morozov said. "We played hard until the end and we managed to win, so we are happy."
In regulation, Sandin starred with two goals and two assists. Yet in front of 8,693 fans in Ostrava, Sweden couldn't pull out the win, even though coach Tomas Monten's team had rallied from a 3-1 first-period deficit to lead 4-3, after seeing star forward Nils Hoglander ejected less than five minutes in.
"It's too bad," said Sandin. "I wish I could have done more to help us win the game, but it is what it is. We have to get out of bed and be ready for tomorrow."
Yegor Sokolov also scored twice for Russia. Alexander Khovanov added a goal and an assist, and Vasili Podkolzin had two helpers. The Russians will face the winner of the Canada-Finland semi-final for gold, while Sweden takes on the loser for bronze.
"Basically, this is the best moment of my career so far," said Podkolzin. "Some guys have just one chance to play for gold. Some maybe have two. This is unbelievable."
Sweden fell short in its quest for its third gold medal in tournament history. The Juniorkronorna’s championships have come at long intervals, in 1981 and 2012. The last Swedish medal was silver in Buffalo 2018.
For the Swedes, Samuel Fagemo and Nils Lundkvist added a goal and an assist apiece, while Linus Nassen had two assists. The Swedes mustered 25 shots on goal.
Sweden's Hugo Alnefelt and Russia's Yaroslav Askarov staged a rematch of their showdown in the 2019 U18 Worlds final, which the hosts won 4-3 in Ornskoldsvik on Lucas Raymond's overtime hat-trick goal. Both goalies had their shaky moments, but Askarov was pulled in the third period and Alnefelt was heroic in defeat.
Sweden had a dream start. Just 16 seconds in, David Gustafsson won a draw in the Russian end back to Sandin, whose point drive beat Askarov high to the glove side.
However, subsequently it looked like the Russians were playing with the fast-forward button on, while Sweden was listening to the theme from “Chariots of Fire.” First-period shots favoured Russia 16-7.
Morozov answered right back at 3:04 with the power-play equalizer. Podkolzin fed him in the right faceoff circle and he whipped it along the ice through the legs of both Tobias Bjornfot and Alnefelt.
"We played well in the group stage as well, I think, but we weren't as disciplined as we have been the last two games," said Russia's Dmitri Voronkov, who got two goals in the quarter-final win over Switzerland. "I think that has been a key. And our power play has been working really well, and that makes a big difference in the outcome."
Just 1:18 later, the Russians capitalized after Hoglander, who entered as the tournament scoring leader (5+5=10), was ejected with a five-minute major for a hit to the head of Grigori Denisenko.
Waiting in the right faceoff circle, Khovanov snapped up the rebound from Nikita Alexandrov’s shot and roofed it home. The Moncton Wildcats forward celebrated by skating past the Swedish bench and kissing his jersey.
"I'm just an emotional player, an emotional guy," said Khovanov. "I'm so happy to score for my country."
At 12:05, an Alnefelt gaffe led to Russia’s 3-1 goal. The Swedish goalie came out to headman the puck, but Sokolov gloved it down and outwaited him before depositing a bad-angle shot just inside the far post.
At 14:44, Fagemo brought the Swedish fans back to life when he beat Askarov stick-side for his tournament-leading seventh goal and 11th point with the man advantage.
Lundkvist, who set up Fagemo’s goal, was sent off for slashing Denisenko on a late odd-man rush. The Swedes were lucky to trail by just one goal after 20 minutes.
In the scrambly but more even second period, the Swedes tied it up at 11:02 with Khovanov serving a minor for checking to the head. Sandin blew a rising shot through traffic past Askarov.
"They scored a lot with the extra man, and so did we, but I think the score could have been even higher," said Voronkov. "There were a lot of other good chances for both teams."
At 4:35 of the third period, Lundkvist put Sweden up 4-3 on the power play with a perfect shot inside Askarov's glove-side post. Looking for a momentum changer, Russian coach Valeri Bragin yanked his 17-year-old starter in favour of Amir Miftakhov.
Bragin has gotten good mileage out of his goalie changes in past World Junior playoff games, such as replacing Dmitri Shikin with Igor Bobkov in the 5-3 gold-medal win over Canada in 2011 or Andrei Vasilevski with Andrei Makarov in the 6-5 semi-final win over Canada in 2012. This move also paid off.
Russia made it 4-4 at 8:35 on a thing of beauty. On the rush, Sokolov left a drop pass for Khovanov and then accepted the return feed, snapping a high shot past Alnefelt's glove before he could move.
"They had some lucky goals, but it's a new day tomorrow and we have to prepare for the bronze medal," said a resigned Bjornfot.
The Russians hold the overall edge head-to-head against Sweden with 24 wins, three ties, and 17 losses. Their last playoff meeting was Russia’s 2-1 bronze medal win in 2017 on Denis Guryanov’s goal 33 seconds into overtime. The last time they met in a semi-final, Sebastian Collberg’s penalty shootout goal gave Sweden a 3-2 win over the hosts in Ufa 2013.