CALGARY – Joakim Nordström’s goal at 2:16 of overtime gave Sweden a dramatic comeback 4-3 win over Russia and a semi-final bye. Russia faces the Czechs in Monday’s second quarter-final, while the Swedes will play the winner of Finland-Slovakia on Tuesday.
Tournament goal-scoring leader Max Friberg sent a pass to defenceman Patrik Nemeth, whose shot was tipped home by Nordström, eliciting an explosion from the largely pro-Sweden crowd of 16,643 at the Saddledome.
"The puck almost hit me in the face, but it hit my stick. I don’t know where it hit my stick and whether or not it was good or not," said Nordström, alluding to the fact that the goal was video-reviewed.
"Prior to the last period, we reminded ourselves in the locker room about the Russian comeback in Buffalo [in the gold medal game]," said Swedish coach Roger Rönnberg. "When we scored the winning goal, I tried to calm down the players celebrating on the bench, saying: ‘We haven’t won anything yet. The tournament starts now.’”
The last game of the round-robin portion of the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship was also the most exciting so far.
Even though Russian starter Andrei Vasilevski sparkled for much of the night, the 17-year-old conceded the win to Sweden’s Johan Gustafsson. The Swedes outshot Russia 55-26 in front of 16,643 spectators at the Saddledome.
Oscar Klefbom, Rickard Rakell and Max Friberg also scored for the Swedes, who pushed back in a big way in the last 40 minutes, especially the third. Captain Johan Larsson had two assists.
Ignat Zemchenko, Yaroslav Kosov, and Ivan Telegin scored for Russia in the first period.
Mikhail Grigorenko missed this game with a lower-leg injury suffered against Latvia, and the Russians only used 11 forwards.
The Russians entered this game with the tournament’s best power play, perfect penalty-killing, and best cumulative save percentage and goals-against-average for netminders. But those shining statistics wouldn’t be enough to lift them directly into the semis.
"We have a harder road to the gold medal, but we have a very good team," said Russian coach Valeri Bragin.
"The Czechs have a good team, but it's no big deal to play another game," said Nail Yakupov of the upcoming quarter-final.
Russia struck with lightning speed for its two opening goals. Yakupov stole the puck at the Swedish blueline, deked rapidly toward the net, and fed a beautiful cross-crease backhand pass past the stick of Fredrik Claesson to Zemchenko, who fired it home at 2:09.
Just seven seconds later, it was 2-0 when Kosov came down left wing and snapped a shot through the Swedish netminder from the left faceoff circle.
"After a bad goal like that, you just have to stay focused on the next shot," said Gustafsson. "If you start feeling sorry for yourself, the game is lost."
The Russians then nearly made it a three-goal lead on a Nikita Gusev breakaway, but Gustafsson stuck out his right pad to stop the Russian’s backhand deke.
Hoping to stop the game from getting out of hand, Swedish coach Roger Ronnberg called a time-out to regroup at 3:33. And the Swedes thought they’d gotten on the board at 6:20 when Mika Zibanejad hustled to the net and the puck went in off his skate from a Rakell centering pass. However, the play was video-reviewed by the officials and ruled no goal.
Shortly afterwards, Vasilevski stretched to make a great save on Nordström’s chance on the doorstep. The crowd tried to boost Tre Kronor’s spirits with chants of “Let’s go, Sweden!”
At this point, Sweden looked snake-bitten. With under eight minutes left in the first period, John Klingberg deked his way through a host of Russian defenders, but then put the puck high over the net.
Things just got worse for the Swedes when Telegin sped away from Klingberg on a shorthanded solo dash and zipped a shot through Gustafsson’s five-hole to make it 3-0 at 13:33.
Kosov hit a crossbar late in the period, and the Swedes were fortunate to head to the dressing room only down by three. They did their best to do some damage in the middle frame.
Russian captain Yevgeni Kuznetsov went off for repairs during an early second-period power play for Sweden after getting hit in the face. Igor Ozhiganov limped off after getting dumped by Victor Rask inside the Russian blueline. On the ensuing power play, the Russians kept Sweden hemmed in and barely failed to score.
Sweden outshot Russia 17-8 in the second, but were constantly frustrated by Vasilevski, who was about as square to the shooter throughout as it’s possible to be. The Russians took four minors in the period.
"We believed in ourselves," said Friberg. "We knew we had a good game going, and we just had to keep working. I think they got tired and we had more energy. That is why they took the penalties."
"The guys showed incredible character," said Rönnberg. "It wasn’t easy for them to keep their heads cool when trailing 3-0. But that’s exactly what they did. They didn’t start running around like crazy. They stuck to the system."
Dating back to his December 26 debut versus Switzerland, Vasilevski’s shutout streak would finally end at 163:17. It was the second-longest in tournament history, behind only countryman Alexei Volkov, who put together a 215:09 streak in 1999.
Early in the third period, Klembom's high left point shot eluded him to cut the deficit to 3-1. The crowd cheered as the Swedes sensed a momentum shift.
Vasilevski had to be extra-sharp as the blue-and-yellow lads peppered him during back-to-back power plays. Filip Forsberg sent a one-timer off the goalie's right post.
"I’m disappointed in the calls against us," said Kuznetsov. "I’m surprised we weren’t playing at a 5-on-3 disadvantage. Anyway, we came up from third place last year to win the gold. Life goes on."
The Swedes made it 3-2 at 12:19 of the third when Rakell took a bad-angle shot from the right side that bounced off a Russian defender and just squeaked past Vasilevski's left pad.
With just over five minutes left, Nordström was barely foiled by Vasilevski's blocker on a lovely feed off the rush from Ludvig Rensfeldt.
With under two minutes left to play, Gustafsson gave his team a chance to tie it by stretching out his right pad to deny Kuznetsov on a breakaway.
And the Swedes did just that when Friberg tipped home Jonas Brodin's shot from the line with 40 seconds left and the net empty for the extra attacker. It tied Friberg with Canada's Mark Stone for the tournament goals lead (seven).
"We have a great core group with many leaders," said Rönnberg.
"It’s hard to lead 3-0 and lose," noted Yakupov. "A loss like this will make us work for three periods and not two periods."
After the game, an indoor fireworks display worthy of a Nickelback concert graced the Saddledome, Expect more fireworks as we move into the elimination phase of the 2012 World Juniors.
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)