SCOTIABANK PLACE – Russia beat Slovakia 5-2 as skill trumped desire in the battle for third place on Monday afternoon. It was Russia's second straight World Junior bronze and fifth consecutive medal since 2005.
Russia – Slovakia 5-2 (1-0, 2-1, 2-1)
For the surprising Slovaks, a fourth-place finish marks their second-best result of all time after the 1999 bronze medal in Winnipeg.
Nikita Filatov led the way with two goals, and Pavel Chernov, Maxim Goncharov and Dmitri Kugryshev also scored for Russia, which bounced back from a devastating 6-5 semi-final loss to Canada. Martin Stojnach and Tomas Tatar replied for Slovakia.
"We're happy," said Filatov. "It was a good game for us. Yesterday was very difficult, because we were still thinking about the Canada game and how close we were to winning. We weren't perfect today, but we're happy to get the bronze."
"I didn't sleep after the Canada game," said Russia's Sergei Korostin. "We were five seconds away from winning. Today was a difficult game and very different."
Initially, the contest featured a lethargic pace, but flashes of excitement surfaced as it continued. Russia outshot Slovakia 25-23.
Russia opened the scoring at 4:30 after a faceoff in the Slovakian end, as Chernov collected the puck in front of goalie Jaroslav Janus and quickly knifed it home. The Russians maintained puck possession during a series of first-period power plays, but couldn't cash in.
"We weren't thinking about the last time we played Russia at all [an 8-1 loss in the Preliminary Round]," said Janus afterwards. "We knew they were a good team, but we were excited before the game because we knew we had a chance for a medal. Fourth place is very good for us."
Early in the second period, the Slovaks had a golden (or bronze?) opportunity to get on the board with the power play, including a two-man advantage for half a minute. The pro-Slovak crowd of 18,763 repeatedly urged them to “shoot!”, but the Russians mostly took away the lanes.
Goncharov made it 2-0 Russia at 5:56 on a breakaway after coming out of the penalty box, taking a pass from Evgeni Dadonov, and hoisting home a high backhander.
Near the halfway mark, Sergei Andronov stole the puck at centre ice and zoomed in alone, but Janus came up big, desperately pulling the splits to foil the Russian forward with his right pad.
Cheers erupted when Stajnoch's blast from the point beat Russia's Vadim Zhelobnyuk with Marek Viedensky screening in front, cutting the deficit to 2-1 at 10:14 of the second.
With about six minutes left in the middle frame, Tomas Tatar had two glorious chances right in front of Zhelobnyuk's cage to knot the score, but couldn't convert.
Russia got the back-breaker at 19:28 of the second. Slovakian defenceman Radek Deyl blocked Filatov's initial shot but the Russian captain regained the puck in the right faceoff circle and hammered it through Janus for a 3-1 lead.
Filatov extended Russia's lead to 4-1 at 11:11 of the third with a combination of great defensive play and offensive opportunism. Again, Deyl was the victim. Filatov first blocked his shot and then stole the puck from him at centre ice, racing in to zing a wrister over the glove of Janus. The goal put Filatov into a tie with Canada's John Tavares for the tournament goal-scoring lead (eight), prior to the Canada-Sweden gold medal game.
With under three minutes left, Tomas Tatar narrowed the gap to 3-2 on the power play when he bounced one in off a Russian defender from behind the goal line. It was his seventh of these World Juniors.
Dmitri Kugryshev sealed Russia's victory with a late empty-netter.
"We played like a team today," said Russia's Dmitri Kulikov. "It was a good win. I couldn't imagine going home without a medal."
The three best players of the tournament for each team were honoured. For Slovakia, Janus, Stajnoch, and Tatar were chosen, while for Russia, it was Zhelobnyuk, Goncharov, and Andronov.
The Russians clapped for the crowd after accepting their bronze medals, and the Slovaks got a nice round of applause after saluting Ottawa with sticks held high.
Russia has earned a medal at each of the eight World Juniors played in Canada (1978 gold, 1986 gold, 1991 silver, 1995 silver, 1999 gold, 2003 gold, 2006 silver, 2009 bronze).
Sergei Nemchinov, the head coach of Russia, captured gold in 1983 and 1984 as a member of the Soviet national junior team.
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)