BUFFALO – Denis Golubev scored the decisive goal of the shootout to give Russia a 4-3 win over Sweden and a berth in the gold medal game Wednesday night at HSBC Arena. The game got to overtime thanks to a tying goal by Sergei Kalinin of Russia with just 87 seconds left in the third period, the team's second improbable rally in less than 24 hours.
It will be Russia's first trip to the final game since 2007. Golubev scored on Russia's second shootout shot while goalie Dmitri Shikin, sensational through 70 minutes of regulation and overtime, stopped all three Swedes he faced.
Oscar Lindberg, Sebastian Wännström and Anton Lander were are thwarted by Shikin. Lander's shot, the last of the shootout, hit the post and went out.
"It doesn’t matter who scores the goals," said Golubev. "It’s not about me, it’s about the team. The most important thing is that we advance to the final. Everybody is happy on our team."
Shikin, the other hero of the game, was even not Russia's number-one goalkeeper at the beginning of the tournament. But since the first two losses, Russia has become better and better.
"We played in the 'Group of Death' due to our sixth place last year, so the first two games against the strongest teams were important for us to see who our number-one goalie is, and how I should change the lines," Russian coach Valeri Bragin said. "Those defeats helped us. Our players recovered well mentally and physically after the game last night. That’s why we won the game."
Swedish coach Roger Rönnberg was by some considered as disrespectful after the game on New Year’s Eve when he said that his team had bigger problems with Russia and the Czech Republic then with Canada, and the mostly Canadian fans in attendance showed their displeasure by cheering for the Russians most of the night and especially during the shootout, booing the Swedes and cheering the Russians.
"We played only one bad game in the tournament," Rönnberg said, "and unfortunately it was the most important game. We simply couldn't play up to our usual standards. Our guys were not relaxed as in the beginning of the tournament. We lost against the better team."
The flow and motion, puck possession and poise which the Swedes displayed against Canada was nowhere to be seen in this second game against Russia in less than one week.
Russia took the lead rather unexpectedly at 6:37. Swedish goaltender Robin Lehner, who was perfect in the 2-0 preliminary win against Russia on December 28, didn’t look good on this one. Lehner didn’t cover up well by his near post when Vladimir Tarasenko shot from a harmless looking angle. This was Lehner’s second flagrant mistake in two games. He also made one on New Year’s Eve, whiffing on a shot that led to Canada’s 2-1 goal.
Although both Lehner and his team picked up their game, they were never close to the rhythm and puck possession that they displayed against Canada on New Year’s Eve.
Instead it was Russian goaltender Dmitri Shikin who made several dazzling saves when the Swedes were desperately trying to get even. Desperation only grew when Russia doubled their lead seven minutes into the middle period thanks to Golubev. His fourth-line mate Stanislav Bocharov was chased behind the net by both Swedish defencemen, Tim Erixon and Patrik Nemeth, and when Bocharov passed the puck in front, Golubev was all alone and had plenty of time to get Lehner down and score.
Erixon questioned the call with the referee, claiming he missed an icing call, but Erixon had the chance to play the puck and when he didn’t the icing was waved off.
"Yes, it was a strange situation," agreed goalie Lehner, "as we all thought the ref would call an icing. But we can't use this as an excuse. We didn't play very well."
The Swedes finally managed to solve Shikin with a power-play goal with two minutes left in the period. The Russian penalty was close to expiring when defenceman Adam Larsson scored with a mighty slapshot from the slot. Until then, the Russians seemed to enjoy full control, constantly breaking up Swedish plays and making it very difficult for the favourites to get anything going. Offensively, Vladimir Tarasenko was a threat every time he was on the ice.
Sweden tied the game 1:20 into the third when Calle Järnkrok tipped in a pass from defenceman Adam Larsson past Shikin. Russia had a golden opportunity to regain the lead three minutes later when Semyon Valuiski had Robin Lehner beaten on a breakaway. He slid the puck through the goalie's pads only to see the puck go wide of the far post.
Sweden’s best chance in early the third was created by Jesper Fasth with six minutes left in regulation when he split the Russian defence, but Shikin was there again to make a save when Fasth was all alone.
Sweden capitalized on a Russian penalty to Dmitri Orlov with 3:52 left when Patrick Cehlin, a forward, scored from the point 33 seconds later. Goaltender Shikin was screened by Carl Klingberg and he never saw the puck.
Just like yesterday afternoon against Finland, the Russians refused to give up. Sergei Kalinin scored the 3-3 goal – his first of the tournament – with 1:27 left after a scramble in front of Robin Lehner. Kalinin poked in the puck while almost down on the ice. Ten minutes of four-on-four overtime settled nothing.
"They played extremely defensively, and we seem to thrive against teams that play a more open style like Canada," offered Johan Larsson. "This is a very heavy loss for us, the heaviest of my career."
"We've known each other a long time because all guys except Kuznetsov are born in 1991. We wanted to win badly because Russia hasn’t won the World U20 Championship for the last seven years," Golubev said.
For the gold medal game he doesn’t have specific wishes. "We need to win the game, no matter against whom we play. It doesn’t matter for us whether we play Canada or the Americans," Golubev said.
Captain Tarasenko doesn't see an end of the rising Russian team. "We have become better with each game. The next game will be our best game," Tarasenko promised.
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)