After falling to Finland in overtime on Monday, the American team were raring to go against a Russian side that flattered to deceive against Slovakia. However, the opening ten minutes were marked by a Russian barrage at Alex Nedeljkovic in the American net, as the U.S. took four unanswered penalties. Nedeljkovic, who played last season for the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL was named as the MVP for the Americans and made 32 saves for the victory.
Speaking after the game, Nedeljkovic commented, "It was a big game. Anytime you play the Russians it’s a really big game. We’re very happy right now. We’re controlling our own destiny and we’ve got another big game tomorrow."
Team USA head coach Bob Corkum lavished praise on his goaltender following the game, adding, "He was spectacular. He was confident back there, his rebounds were good. He didn’t bobble many pucks and he found the pucks through screens. He was definitely the first star for us today, no question about it."
While the Russians went 0/4 on the power play in the opening ten minutes, the United States scored twice on the man advantage in the space of 56 seconds in the first period. Firstly, Nick Schmaltz cut in from the left wing and fired a low hard shot past Sergei Korobov in the Russian net, before Schmaltz turned provider, dishing the puck to Joey Dudek, who made no mistake and buried the puck in the back of the net.
However, one can never count the Russians out of the game. Despite only having two shots on goal in the second period, Russia halved the deficit half way through the period, as Alexei Sleptsov hammered a puck from the point which eluded the grasp of Nedeljkovic. 38 seconds into the third period and the Russians had clawed back the deficit, finally getting on the board with the man advantage. Great puck movement by Maxim Lazarev opened up the American defence and Radel Fazleyev received the past and beat Nedeljkovic down low.
"We knew we weren’t going to keep them off the board," commented Bob Corkum. "They are a very skilled team. They have high end speed and their power play is very good. They got the momentum from the power play and carried it into five on five and put us back on our heels a little bit."
With the Russians swarming, things were looking ominous for the United States. However, a Nikita Lyamkin penalty gave their power play another chance to work, and defenceman Jack Dougherty found the back of the net with a point shot to push the U.S. in front once again.
Speaking about his goal, Dougherty said, "That whole play was a team effort. We made some nice passes and Bittner set up a nice screen in front. It was a seeing eye goal. I didn’t even know I scored!" He added, "I thought yesterday we played a great game. It was a heart-breaking loss. We had a lot of shots. Today our coaches didn’t tell us to change anything because we worked so hard and I think it showed today."
This goal seemed to steady American nerves, and they soon scored a fourth just three minutes later. Superb backchecking by Kyle Connor forced the turnover, and he found Joseph Snively as the U.S. gained the blueline. Snively used his speed to carry the puck on net, and lit the lamp with a second chance effort.
The Russians rallied back mid-way through the third period, but Nedeljkovic was more than equal to everything they could muster, denying Kirill Pilipenko and Maxim Ryzhkov in the dying minutes. The U.S. defence stood firm, keeping Russia to the points on the whole, and as the clock ticked down, the Americans were hounding Russia on the forecheck.
After scoring five power-play goals through two games, it seems that the American coaches’ special teams tactics are working. Jack Dougherty added, "We work on our special teams a lot. One of the coach’s main points is special teams, in that if you win that you have an exponentially bigger chance to win the game."
With four points through two games, the United States now have a great chance of progressing to the semi-finals on Friday, while Russia will have to look to regroup when they face Finland tomorrow.
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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