If it's Canada-Russia in a meaningful game, it has to be a 6-5 score. And it was today in what was as exciting and thrilling a bronze-medal game as you are ever likely to see.
Valeri Nichushkin poured down the right wing and cut hard in on goal during the 4-on-4 overtime. He cut around defenceman Morgan Reilly and then beat goalie Malcolm Subban to poke the puck in and give Russia the bronze medal.
"He had good speed and made a good play," Reilly said. "It just turned out to be a goal."
"When you beat Canada in a special game like this at home, for me it’s like my own gold," said Danil Zharkov. "I'm really happy."
Canada's streak of medals for 14 years in a row comes to an end with this fourth-place finish. The two top teams Canada beat in the preliminary round came back to eliminate them in the playoff round. Canada beat the U.S. 2-1 and the Russians 4-1 in the early going, but lost to the Americans 5-1 in the semi-finals and now today to the Russians.
"We gave everything today, and that’s why we won," said captain Nail Yakupov. It’s life. It’s hockey. We probably lost some energy against Switzerland and then Sweden, that was tough. Today in the third period everybody still felt a little tired, but we worked hard and we gave 100 percent."
Canada trailed 2-0, 3-1, 4-3, and 5-4 before tying the game midway through the third and sending the game to extra time, but the comebacks weren't enough against a determined home side.
"We didn’t win the gold medal, but we won bronze at home, so it’s good news for us and for Russia," offered Yakupov, who had two goals for the victors." I want to say thanks to my team. I love my team."
His counterpart, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, had a goal and three assists to move back into top spot in the scoring race with 15 points.
"We battled hard, but it's unacceptable to not win a medal," said Canadian forward Jonathan Huberdeau. "As Canadians, we can't come here and not win a medal."
The fireworks started early and often in this one. Russia got on the board first at 3:31 on a bad goal for Binnington to surrender. A harmless shot from the right boards by Alexander Khokhlachyov slid under the goalie’s right pad and rolled over the goal line, mush to the delight of the hometown fans.
Just a minute and a half later the Russians made it 2-0 on a more legitimate play. Boone Jenner took an undisciplined elbowing penalty and on the ensuing power play Albert Yarullin faked a shot and passed to Yaukpov, stationed at the back side of the play. He had only to fire the puck into the open net behind Jordan Binnington, starting his first game of the tournament.
"We scored two quick goals and I think it helped us," Zharkov said. It was the exact reverse of what happened in the preliminary round when Canada took an early 2-0 lead and went on to win the game.
At that point Canada’s coach Steve Spott called a timeout to try to settle down his tropps before the game got out of control. The move paid off in the short term as Canada drew a power play of its own and capitalized. Nugent-Hopkins got to a loose puck in front and snapped it home before Makarov could get into position for the shot.
The goals kept coming. A minute later, Kirill Dyakov’s point shot beat Binnington, at which point Spott played the only other card in his bag—he pulled the goalie in favour of Subban.
Again the move paid off. Subban made two spectacular saves moments later on Nikita Kucherov to keep it a 3-1 game, and he made several other good saves before Canada drew within a goal on another man advanteg. This time a Ryan Murphy point shot clanged off the post and came right out the other side to Jonathan Huberdeau who put it in at 15:51.
The period was chippy. Mark Schiefele was cut after being high-sticked early in the game without a call, establishing a tone of nasty play that the two American referees did an excellent job controlling.
Spott did a great job of calming the troops and intermission and Canada came out more focused and concerned about the score. And Nugent-Hopkins and Schiefele had their best 20 minutes of the tournament. The two combined for the tying goal, their third with the extra man, at 3;16. Nugent-Hopkins fired a perfect pass in the slot and Schiefele managed to sneak a shot under Makarov’s left pad.
Just a minute later, though, the Russians went ahead again. Maxim Shalunov’s shot was blocked in front by Tyler Wothersppoon, but the puck landed on the stick of Yevgeni Mozer and he ripped a shot past Subban to make it a 4-3 game.
Canada scored its fourth goal on the power play at 12:53 when Nugent-Hopkins teed the puck up for Murphy at the point. His low blast went all the way through to make it 4-4, and that’s how the game stood after 40 minutes.
The Russians struck early in the third, though, going ahead 5-4 on a power play. Again, it was a back-door play, this time Kirill Kapustin feeing Yakupov for the east finish at exactly 1:00.
Canada battled back yet again, this time tying the game at 10:46 when Brett Ritchie pushed a loose puck over the goal line in a scramble. Schiefele had a great chance to win the game late in the third, but his shot rang loud off the post and stayed out.
"The puck ended up on my stick and I released it quickly, trying to catch the goalie off guard. It was a tough bounce, hitting off the outside of the post."
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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