Russia overcame Finland with a three-goal blitz early in the second period, ensuring it continued its run of World Championship medals with bronze in Cologne.
After the disappointment of semi-final defeat, Russia bounced back to claim a bronze medal and make it four years in a row on the World Championship podium under Oleg Znarok’s coaching.
The two teams had suffered contrasting semi-final losses the day before. Russia, agonizingly, blew a winning position against Canada; Finland, somewhat tamely, succumbed to Sweden. But the reaction to those losses was also telling. While the Russians left the ice shell-shocked, the Finns were more phlegmatic about their game. If pain and frustration was destined to be a motivator here, Russia had the edge.
So it proved. Finland showed some fight early on, but Russia raised its game and ultimately steamrollered its northern neighbor, paced by two goals from Nikita Gusev.
The SKA youngster, playing at his first senior World Championship, has acquitted himself well at this level and his double strike in the bronze-medal game took him to six goals for the competition. His first, a venomous slap shot from the right circle, flew past Joonas Korpisalo while Sergei Andronov threw up the screen. In the second period he got another, wrapping up another strong power play with assists from Artemy Panarin and Evgeny Dadonov after Russia’s passing play unpicked the Finnish defense.
In between there was a short-handed goal for another of Russia’s emerging talents, Vladimir Tkachyov. The Ak Bars man notched for the first time in the tournament, converting Valery Nichushkin’s surge down the right boards.
And, after a tournament in which – once again – Russia’s defense has come under criticism after losses against Canada and the USA, CSKA’s Bogdan Kiselevich sent a reminder that all is not beyond redemption on the blue line when he grabbed his third of the tournament. His shot off a Nichushkin feed was helped by an error from Korpisalo, but had enough to make it 4-0 and bring Vityaz goalie Harri Sateri to the Finnish crease. Kiselevich has also won plaudits for his defensive work in Germany: up until Saturday’s semi-final, none of Russia’s opponents had scored while he was on the ice.
Kiselevich himself rated his first World Championship experience as a qualified success. “As a whole, the tournament made a great impression on me,” he said. “Playing at this kind of level in every game was good. You can never let up, you have to play hard for the full 60 minutes. That was what cost us yesterday, so today we were determined to put it right.
“But to be honest it was a bit disappointing because yesterday we defeated ourselves, we weren't beaten by the opposition. We didn't get to play for gold, but we came away with a bronze.”
Briefly, there was a danger that history might repeat itself. The Finns got on the board in the dying seconds of the middle stanza through Mikko Rantanen, and added a second early in the final session when Mikko Lehtonen’s long-range wrister slipped under Andrei Vasilevsky’s glove. After blowing a lead 24 hours earlier, surely Russia couldn’t fail again?
The unthinkable became alarmingly plausible, though, when Veli-Matti Savinainen made it a one-goal game with 14 minutes left. The former Ugra and Torpedo forward enjoyed some good fortune as his shot deflected off Anton Belov and just evaded Vasilevsky’s blocker.
Russia called a time-out, and Oleg Znarok found the words to inspire his team. Soon afterwards Evgeny Kuznetsov’s pass sliced the Finnish defense apart and released Nikita Kucherov. His first shot was saved by Sateri, but the Tampa Bay forward beat Joonas Jarvinen to the rebound and slid it into the empty net to make it 5-3 and restore some calm.
“We could have got nervous because there was still a lot of time remaining, but we stayed calm, the guys on the bench kept us calm,” Kucherov said. “We stayed confident, Vasilevsky did great and we didn't take too many penalties.”
When asked why Russia seemed to struggle in its third periods during the championship, Kucherov would not be drawn. “Guys, we won today!” he smiled.