REGINA – With a 5-2 victory over the Czech Republic on New Year's Eve, Russia wrapped up second place in Group B. Russia advances to a quarter-final meeting with Switzerland on January 2, while the Czechs are doomed to play in the Relegation Round.
Russia – Czech Republic 5-2 (1-0, 1-1, 3-1)
"It was a pretty tough game, as usual in this tournament," said Russian captain Nikita Filatov. "The main thing is that we won this game."
Shots favoured the Czechs 41-26, marking the third straight game that the Russians have allowed more than 40 shots on goal.
However, goalie Igor Bobkov turned in another stellar performance en route to his fourth win, outdueling Czech netminder Jakub Sedlacek. Thus far, the 18-year-old product of the Metallurg Magnitogorsk system has lived up to the #20 on his jersey, the number of Vladislav Tretiak and Evgeni Nabokov.
"If Bobkov keeps playing this way, we've got a great chance," Filatov said.
Vladimir Tarasenko scored two goals, including the third-period winner, and Kirill Petrov, Maxim Chudinov and Alexander Burmistrov also tallied for Russia. Jan Kana and Stepan Novotny replied for the Czechs.
"We only scored two goals, and you can't win a game like that against Russia," said Czech captain Michal Jordan. "I don't know what to say. If we'd beaten Finland, we'd be in the playoffs. But that's hockey. Now we've got to try to stay in the top division."
The teams got off to a high-tempo, hard-hitting start tempered by defensive caution. Russia struck first on the power play when Tarasenko deftly snapped home a cross-crease feed from Burmistrov at 7:46. A couple of minutes later, Bobkov made a fantastic save off Novotny on a give-and-go rush with Roman Horak.
Poor discipline marred Russia's efforts as the game wore on. Vyacheslav Kulemin was sent off for roughing after the whistle, and Magomed Gimbatov threw a unnecessarily high hit deep in the Czech zone. Yet despite holding a 13-7 first-period edge in shots on goal, the Czechs couldn't cash in.
Yevgeni Timkin was ejected for a hit to the head early in the second, and the Czechs kept shooting. But goalie Bobkov was equal to the challenge, coolly corralling whatever his opponents hurled his way.
The teams traded chances midway through the game, Tomas Knotek ringing a shot off Bobkov's left post and Burmistrov getting checked at the last second on a partial breakaway.
The Russians stretched their lead to 2-0 at the 12-minute mark of the second when Petrov banged the puck past a kneeling Sedlacek.
Kana struck back for the Czech Republic with 3:30 left in the middle frame, scoring his team-best third goal of the tournament. He beat Bobkov five-hole on a breakaway with the man advantage to make it 2-1.
The Czechs finally got the equalizer with 5:59 left in the game, as Novotny grabbed a loose puck down low and stuffed it past Bobrov's left skate.
A horrendous Czech defensive breakdown enabled Russia to pull ahead again just 52 seconds later, however. Tarasenko skated in on a 2-on-0 break and beat Sedlacek with a low stick-side wrister. It was the decisive moment.
Head coach Vladimir Plyushchev immediately called a timeout to ensure his players knew what to do down the stretch.
"I reminded them we had about five minutes to play, and we should calm down and realize the situation," said Plyushchev. "Just play normally, don't be stressed."
The message worked. At 18:48 of the third, Chudinov ensured Russia's victory when he stepped in from the left side and flung a wrister through the goalie's pads. Burmistrov added the 5-2 tally with 41 seconds left.
"We needed three points and didn’t score the goals we needed at the end," said disappointed Czech defenceman Vladimir Roth. "We made a couple of mistakes, and they scored a couple of goals. It’s pretty hard for us."
The Russians saluted the crowd as they skated off after the final tournament game played in Regina.
Plyushchev saluted his goaltender's performance, too, with a smile: "Bobkov likes to face a lot of shots. Actually, he thanks the coach for not awarding him Player of the Game until tonight. He made it a goal to get that honour."
Looking ahead to the quarter-finals, Filatov admitted: "I don't know much about this Swiss team. But I've heard they'll be a tough and fast team, playing a North American style."
Filatov earned two assists against the Czechs, but has had a quiet tournament offensively so far, with just one goal. At the 2009 World Juniors, the talented left wing cracked the tournament all-star team with eight goals and three assists.
"I've got a different role this year," said Filatov. "Last year I had more chances to score because I didn't play penalty killing and stuff like that. I didn't think so much about defence. But now I'm pretty happy with how I'm playing. If I don't score another goal but we win a gold medal, I'll be happy."
This was the sixth straight Russian win over the Czechs at the World Juniors dating back to 2005. The last Czech victory over Russia was a 1-0 decision in the 2000 gold medal game.
The Russians are seeking their sixth straight World Junior medal (silver 2005-07, bronze 2008-09), although they haven't captured gold since 2003. The Czechs haven't won a medal at this tournament since 2005's bronze.
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)