Russia’s finest march on into the World Championship second stage with three points, but more importantly, with a goaltender that seems to have nerves of steel. Konstantin Barulin, who entered the fray with Slovaks, the tournament’s hosts, leading 3-2, certainly showed who the in-form keeper is right now, although it was still not enough for him to start the next game.

Vyacheslav Bykov, awaiting reinforcements from North America, decided not to risk Alexander Burmistrov and so sent three depleted lines into battle. The fourth was without a center, with Konstantin Gorovikov standing in for injured Alexei Tereshchenko.

And yet again Evgeny Nabokov stood between the pipes, the coaching staff showing their faith in him despite his unconvincing display against Slovenia. It has to be said that Nabokov did not exactly shine in this game either, and after allowing a third goal he at last made way for Barulin.

The Gagarin Cup play-offs’ MVP did not let his country down. Barulin was called into action almost immediately, making two vital saves and thus reassuring the rest of the team that they did not need to worry about the last line of defense. From then on Russia was a different team, and it was this new-found confidence that enabled them to go on the offensive.

Fortunately for the Russian fans, Slovakia too had problems in goal, as Jaroslav Halak had several uncomfortable moments and was left helpless by Ilya Nikulin’s shots from distance. In fairness to Halak, the Ak Bars defenseman is rightly renowned for his ability to beat any goalie.

“This was a tough game,” Vyacheslav Bykov gave his take, “both teams needed the points to go into the next round with confidence, and they both fought for them with all their might. I was not happy with how we performed in power play, but we battled well and we deserved to win.”

Possibly the toughest part of the game came soon after the last of the goals had been scored on 44 minutes. First Alexei Morozov was sent to the penalty box, swiftly followed by Nikolai Belov, and this was the cue for Barulin to show his full range of skills. Between then and the end of the game he saved 12 shots, a good half of which were dangerous.

“Evgeny Nabokov will take his place in goal for Russia’s next game,” Bykov announced. “His substitution was something we’d intended.”

There was some positive news for Russia from the medics: Alexei Tereshchenko’s injury is not as bad as was originally feared, and he could even be ready to return to the side in time for the next game. The doctors also gave the all clear to Sergei Zinovyev.

Alexei Shevchenko, special to

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