The defending champions are out. Gold medalists in 2013, the United States ran into penalty trouble against Russia and couldn't capitalize on their own chances.
Nikita Zadorov scored two 5-on-3 goals in the second period with one-timers from the point to lead Russia to a 5-3 win and a spot in the semi-finals. Russia will face the winner of the Sweden-Slovakia game later this afternoon in one game on Saturday.
"We want to play Sweden," enthused Zadorov after. "It was a close game last time [3-2 loss], and we're going to watch some video and play better [on Saturday]."
"This game made us a better team today than we were yesterday," said Mikhail Grigorenko. "I think we deserved to win. Hopefully we can keep the same energy, same compete level for the semi-finals."
Both teams were coming off losses, but the Russians learned and reacted better than the Americans today. The bottom line: the Russians scored on their power plays and the Americans didn't.
"Penalties," Stefan Matteau sighed. "They buried their chances. The refs did their job. I know North American teams coming over here...maybe the officiating is different, but we still gave them a reason to call penalties. That's what shot us in the foot. But we got power plays, too. We didn't finish."
"It's not a good feeling, but I think it will make us all better players," goalie Jon Gillies suggested.
Indeed, the U.S. had nearly ten minutes of power-play time in the game but couldn't find the back of the net. The team had clicked eleven times previously in the tournament to lead all nations.
"The power plays were the game changer," agreed Grigorenko. "We scored two goals. We took the lead, and we kept it. Those two five-on-threes in a row were the key."
The first period was a high-scoring affair thanks to less than stellar goaltending at both ends. Russia got things started at 6:17 when Grigorenko whacked a loose puck into the net for the early lead.
Two and a half minutes later, the Americans tied the score. Brady Skjei tried a wraparound which went off a skate and through Andrei Vasilevski's legs, and as the puck stopped on the goal line Matteau came in and nudged it over the line to make it a tied game.
The 1-1 score lasted only 21 seconds. Pavel Buchnevich took a shot from in close that bounced off the post in behind the falling Gillies. Buchnevich followed up his shot and pushed the puck over the line at 9:11.
Once again, though, the Americans had a response. This time Matteau took a shot off the left wing than was blocked by Andrei Mironov, but the puck fell onto the stick of Ryan Hartman and he made no mistake.
Grigorenko then made a nice rush to get in free on Gillies, but his backhand went wide. It proved a costly miss. Riley Barber made an improbably high saucer pass from blue line to blue line to Nic Kerdiles. Kerdiles managed to knock the puck down and controlled it in one motion and then fired a quick snap shot from well out. Vasilevski was not prepared, and the puck went in the short side at 16:51 to give the U.S. its first lead. It was Vasilevki's last weak moment.
Of course the coaches cleaned up their respective teams’ defensive details during the intermission, and the only two goals of the second period came on 5-on-3 situations for Russia. Just as in the New Year’s Eve game against Canada, penalties outdid a strong American effort.
Both goals were virtually identical and came at 13:15 and 14:16. Using the two-man advantage, forward Anton Slepyshev, playing the left point, slid a nice pass across to defenceman Zadorov at the other point, and he rifled one timers past Gillies. Just like that, a 3-2 lead for the U.S. was now a 4-3 lead for the Russians.
"They were great passes from Slepyshev," Zadorov noted. "They have a good goalie, so we knew we just had to shoot the puck. I scored two goals--maybe they were lucky, maybe not. I don't know."
"The first one, I thought Slepyshev would shoot from the other side, so I was trying to backtrack into the net," Gillies explained. "By the time I realzied it was Zadorov who shot it, it was by me. It's kind of a helpless feeling when you're fighting for the puck but you can't find it. On the second one, it was a phenomenal shot. I didn't pick it up right away, and once again there was traffic in front. In a 5-on-3, in a tournament like this, I'd kind of like to have those back and try to make a couple of saves for my team."
Both teams had two more chances with the extra man in the third period, but neither team capitalized and the Russians played letter-perfect defence. Pavel Buchnevich salted the win with an empty netter with 28.9 seconds remianing after Matt Grzelcyk fell at his blue line. Buchnevich picked up a misconduct immediately after, the result of exuberant celebration of the goal in front of the U.S. bench.
"It's pretty exciting to play in the semi-finals," added Zadorov. "We have to keep going."
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)