It is fair to say that coming into Thursday’s afternoon game, the Russians have flattered to deceive at this year’s tournament. After a tricky 2-1 victory over Slovakia, they fell to the U.S.A., which meant that they needed a regulation victory against Finland in order to make the semi-finals.
Russia head coach Pavel Baulin accordingly made some tweaks to his roster, as Maxim Sidorov got the start in goal, while Eduard Nasybullin replaced Ivan Nikolishin as team captain. It was clear to see that the Russians were fired up for today’s game, as they took the game to their Finnish opponents. The Russians outshot the Finns 15-6 in the opening frame, and Damir Sharipzyanov went close to scoring in the fifth minute, but Kaapo Kahkonen made a great save to deny the Russian defenceman.
Finally Russia’s pressure would pay off, as they went on to score a pair of goals 59 seconds apart to jump out to a 2-0 lead by the 11:47 mark. Firstly, smart puck movement in the Finnish zone saw the puck worked to Ilya Dervuk at the point, and the Avangard Omsk junior made use of Yevgeni Svechnikov’s screen to beat Kaapo Kahkonen in the Finnish net. Kahkonen would want the second goal back, as Kirill Pilipenko’s shot from the left wing beat him near post to give the Russians a two goal lead.
Things went from bad to worse for the Finns as defenceman Jarkko Parikka blew a tire in the neutral zone, giving the Russians a 2 on 1 counter attack. Artur Boltanov took the puck up the left wing and found Maxim Ryzhkov in the slot, whose hard slapshot beat Kahkonen five hole.
Team Finland captain Manu Honkanen said after the game, ‘We gave three easy goals to Russia in the first period. I talked to the guys in the locker room and said that it was not enough. The coach said the same thing.’
Whatever was said in the intermission seemed to work for Finland, as they rallied back and scored three unanswered goals. Three minutes in, Markus Haapanen scored straight off a faceoff, while Finland’s impressive first line picked up another goal, as Juho Lammikko’s shot from the left wing beat Sidorov to cut the lead to one seven minutes in.
Russia rallied back and put the pressure back on the Finns. Ivan Nikolishin and Daniil Vovchenko both hit the post mid-way through the frame, while Kahkonen had to be at his best to deny Svechnikov. With five minutes left to play in the second period, Svechnikov would take a two minute hooking penalty and with Finland loading up the points, Sami Niku unleashed a rocket of a shot which flew into Sidorov’s goal, levelling the game going into the third period.
‘After two periods, we knew in the locker room that we had to win,’ were the words of Team Russia forward Ivan Nikolishin following the game.
‘It was maybe our most important game because in the next tournament we can’t all be together because a lot of guys will go the CHL so they won’t let us play for Russia.’
Russia were able to turn the game on its head in the third period as less than two minutes in, Maxim Lazarev crashed Kahkonen’s net and was able to bundle the puck over the line. Less than a minute later and the Russians had jumped out to a two goal lead, as Artur Boltanov added to his earlier assist by lighting the lamp with a hard shot glove side.
Boltanov’s goal seemed to take the wind out of Finland’s sails, as they struggled to really create any meaningful scoring opportunities. Joel Kiviranta went close with a slapshot on a shorthanded break, but Sidorov made a fine glove save to deny the Finnish sharpshooter.
Finland replaced Kaapo Kahkonen with Joona Voutilainen half way through the period, but the Jokerit junior was unable to keep out Yevgeni Nazarkin’s shot from the left wing circle; the Russian defenceman benefitting from some great passing between Vladislav Kodola and Ilya Dervuk.
Desperation set in as when given a powerplay opportunity, Finland went with six attackers with five and a half minutes left to play, however, Sidorov was only really tested by a Jere Rouhiainen point shot, which he kicked away with his right pad. Sidorov made 15 saves in total, while the Russians scored seven times on 41 shots.
Maxim Lazarev would eventually score on the empty net with two and a half minutes left, which sparked celebrations on the Russian bench, as they were able to secure their place in the semi finals after a slow start to their 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup campaign.
On the other hand, the Finns face a nail biting wait to see if the Slovaks can pull an upset out of the bag against the United States. When asked about Slovakia’s chances, Finnish captain Honkanen replied, ‘Anything is possible’.
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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