Sweden gave up a 2-0 semi-final lead but beat Russia 3-2 in a shootout to march to its second straight World Junior final against the United States. Sebastian Collberg scored the lone shootout goal.Collberg used a nice backhand deke to fool Russian goalie Andrei Vasilevski. The Frölunda Gothenburg winger also scored in the shootout in Sweden's 3-2 semi-final win over Finland last year.
"It means a lot to take [this accomplishment] with me to the final and have that confidence in my game," said Collberg.
The disappointed Russians will take on Canada for bronze on Saturday before the Sweden-U.S. final. The host nation missed a chance to win its first World U20 title on home ice since 1983 in Leningrad, with a team featuring the likes of Sergei Nemchinov and Ilya Byakin.
In regulation time, Elias Lindholm and Filip Forsberg scored for Sweden.
Andrei Mironov and Mikhail Grigorenko replied for Russia, which will have to regroup quickly under coach Mikhail Varnakov in search of bronze. No host team has won this tournament since Canada in 2009.
"We have to win this game now," said Russia's Danil Zharkov. "It's the second time we'll play [Canada] in the tournament. We have to get the bronze medal."
This was a rematch of last year’s gold medal game in Calgary, where Mika Zibanejad’s overtime goal spoiled a 57-save performance by Russian netminder Andrei Makarov and gave Sweden its first and only World Junior title since 1981 in West Germany.
Despite Russia's gallant effort in the second and third periods, Sweden was better-organized both offensively and defensively overall, and deserved to win again.
"I'm proud of my players," said Varnakov. "We outplayed them in two periods. But the game is the game and the shootout is a lottery, and in this lottery we lost."
The upcoming Sweden-U.S. final didn’t come out of the blue. In fact, the Americans have defeated Sweden in the finals of the last three IIHF World U18 Championships, so many of these U20 players have faced one another before.
"They have a really good team this year," said Collberg of the United States. "They’re playing really well in the whole tournament. At the last [three] U18 tournaments, we have lost to them. So the 1993- and 1994-born players want to win the final against them. A lot of revenge, I would say!"
Remarkably, however, considering the stature of these two nations in the hockey world, this will be the first-ever Sweden-U.S. gold medal game since the IIHF adopted the playoff system in 1996.
"This game could have been the final and Team USA is another good team," said Swedish coach Roger Rönnberg. "We have to play the same way. We have to play aggressive from the start. We have to play with passion from the start.
Russia’s Andrei Vasilevski started in goal for the second straight game, the first time he’s done so at this tournament, while Niklas Lundström got the call for Sweden. Shots on goal favoured Sweden 41-29.
The Russians initially couldn’t get it together after rallying to defeat Switzerland 4-3 in a quarter-final shootout the day before. Here, it took close to 15 minutes for them to register their first shot on goal.
Russia ran into penalty trouble early. Forsberg got Pavel Koledov to take Russia’s second straight minor with some effective cycling in the Russian end. Just 11 seconds into the power play, Viktor Rask deftly passed the puck through a defender to Elias Lindholm, who backhanded it through Vasilevski’s legs at 6:35.
Forsberg made it 2-0 halfway through the first period when he swooped down the left side into the slot and snapped the puck over Vasilevski’s glove. Sweden outshot Russia 14-2 in the first.
"The first 20 minutes were the best my team has performed, not only in this tournament, but in the three years I've been the coach," said Rönnberg. "We played close to perfection."
At 7:32 of the second period, the Russians made it 2-1 when Mironov’s shot from the blueline tipped off a Swedish player’s stick and past Lundström. That sparked Russia, which began carrying the play as fans chanted “Rossiya!” and pounded green Skoda thundersticks.
Jacob de la Rose went off for throwing an elbow on Sergei Kapustin at the midpoint, but Lundström made a miraculous save when Grigorenko tried to convert a cross-ice power play set-up. Later, Anton Slephyshev nearly converted a three-way passing play on the doorstep, and Alexander Khokhlachyov was denied when he zinged one off Lundström’s pad.
"We had to fight to survive [in the second period], but we did and that's why we came away with a 2-1 lead," said Rönnberg.
The Swedes managed to weather Russia's emotion-driven push at the start of the third. But at 7:56, Grigorenko somehow found a loose puck in the Swedish goal crease with four Tre Kronor defenders there and backhanded it over the goalie's pad to make it 2-2.
The Russians kept coming. Andrei Sigaryov danced his way through the Swedish defence for a clear break midway through the final stanza, and the crowd was outraged when he fell down and there was no call. With 7,698 on hand, the atmosphere was frenzied.
With about four and a half minutes left, Nail Yakupov deked his way to the net past Mikael Vikstrand and knifed a wicked backhander that Lundström blocked. It was the Russian captain's best chance of the game, as he finished goalless again with one assist.
Tkachyov waltzed into the Swedish zone and whipped one right off the crossbar with just over a minute remaining. No dice.
It was off to overtime, which settled nothing.
That meant Russia's second consecutive shootout. But it would end in disappointment, unlike the 4-3 quarter-final win over Switzerland.
Sweden won the right to shoot first, and it unfolded as follows (according to the IIHF game-winning shots procedure, in which three different shooters from each team take alternate shots until a decisive goal is scored--and if the game is still tied after three shots by each team, the GWS continues with a tie-break shootout by one player of each team, with the shooting order reversed):
Round 1: SWE, Vikstrand – miss. RUS, Grigorenko - Lundström save.
Round 2: SWE, Rask – Vasilevski save. RUS, Yakupov – Lundström save.
Round 3: SWE, Collberg – goal, backhand deke. RUS, Kucherov - Lundström save.
Russia and Sweden last faced each other in a semi-final in Buffalo in 2011, where Denis Golubev’s shootout goal lifted the Russians to a 4-3 victory.
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)