Russia 3 Czech Republic 0
After two solid but slightly stodgy wins over Group B outsiders, the showdown with the Czechs provided Russia with a real test in Bratislava. A big crowd and a partizan atmosphere added to the occasion with the Czechs hoping to profit from the gaps that had been spotted in Russia’s defense against Austria. Instead, though, they hit a wall in the form of Andrei Vasilevsky – who recorded his first shut-out of the tournament – and fell to goals from Sergei Andronov, Nikita Gusev and an empty netter from Nikita Zaitsev.
Gusev’s was the pick of the bunch, an exhibition of the kind of chemistry he shares with Nikita Kucherov. The two started out as primary school kids playing at the same hockey club in Moscow and now, 20 years on, they’re at it again on the international stage.
“When you’ve known each other that long, you can understand each other’s game really well,” Gusev said after the game. “To be honest, we should have score on the previous shift but we got it right on the next one. The goalie didn’t quite get to it.”
He was also happy with the overall performance, adding: “It was a good game. The Czechs made it congested, they didn’t allow us to create much. We got our goals at good times then we could protect our lead. The Czechs played in their style, there’s nothing more to say.”
Dmitry Orlov was also happier after this game, feeling that Russia’s defense had noticeably tightened up. “Earlier we were letting opponents get through centre ice too easily but today we closed that down. We didn’t see so many dangerous moments and if we made mistakes, Vasilevski bailed us out. He was terrific.”
And Andronov joined in the praise for the goalie: “I think everyone enjoyed the game,” he said. “A second shut-out is really important for us. Andryukha was great. He kept us in it in those big moments. When the key moments come around, he makes the big saves.”
There was rather less drama in the evening game in Bratislava. Once again, Sweden powered to a one-sided victory with a 9-1 drubbing of Norway.
Slovakia 5 Canada 6
Slovakia’s young eagles came close to claiming a famous scalp – but Canada’s legendary resilience saw the top seed in Group A to a last-gasp victory.
The host nation twice held a two-goal lead, only to find itself pegged to 4-4 in the third period. A bench challenge denied a fifth Slovak goal and it was Canada who grabbed the 5-4 advantage. Digging deep, Slovakia tied it up. Then came the hammer blow: with one second left, Mark Stone snatched the winner.
The youngsters of Slovan made an impact. Matus Sukel and Adam Liska gave Slovakia 2-0 up in the first frame, Liska scored again in that second fightback and Sukel’s shot was deflected home by Ladislav Nagy. But despite a thrilling performance, the home was left with nothing to show except a lot of pride.
The other game in Bratislava saw USA defeat Finland in overtime. Dylan Larkin got the key goal here after Finland retrieved a 0-2 deficit to force the extras. The Finns are top of Group A with 7 points, Canada has 6 and USA 5.