On a day of tight battles and tense finishes, Russia edged the USA 4-3 to reach a World Championship semi-final against Finland. The Finns needed overtime to defeat Sweden 5-4, tying the game in the dying seconds. Canada had a similar struggle against Switzerland, levelling the scores at 2-2 with 0.4 seconds left on the clock. The Czechs had an easier time of it, defeating Germany 5-1.

Gusev inspires Russian triumph

Russia 4 USA 3 (2-0, 0-1, 2-2)

Russia got off to a flying start when Nikita Gusev opened the scoring after just 67 seconds. Mikhail Sergachyov’s point shot was blocked, Artyom Anisimov made a nuisance of himself on the slot and the rebound dropped for Gusev to snaffle his fourth goal of the tournament.

Photo: 23.05.19. 2019 IIHF World Championship. Russia - USA

He almost added number five midway through the first period, pinging a shot against the bar only for Zach Werenski to hack the puck out from behind Cory Schneider’s back. But Gusev wasn’t to be denied for long: he dictated the Russian PP late in the frame and got his reward when Sergachyov’s point shot deflected off an American skate and into the net.

However, the middle stanza saw the USA hit back. Brady Skjei pulled a goal back early in the session and Russia found itself facing a challenge it hadn’t really encountered in the group stage – an opponent able to inject pressure into the game rather than rolling over once the Red Machine’s offense hit top gear.

If the second intermission was nervous, there was an instant boost at the start of the third. Gusev was involved again, leading a rush on a broken play that ended with Kirill Kaprizov firing home a shot off Schneider’s far post to give Russia a 3-1 lead. Gusev moved to 3 (1+2) points for the game, Kaprizov scored in back-to-back appearances, banishing concerns that the CSKA man had started slowly in this World Championship. Big players, as we know, show up in big games.

And the value of that goal was demonstrated all too quickly as the USA got one back. A turnover in the Russian end – a rare failing from Russia’s D in this tournament – led to a shooting chance for Noah Hannifin on the blue line. He thumped his shot past Vasilevski to make it a one-goal game yet again.

But not for long. Mikhail Grigorenko needed barely a minute to restore that two-goal cushion and keep Russia on course for the semi-final. Not even a late US goal, created by Kane, despatched by Alex Debrincat, could deny Russia now – a semi-final against Finland awaits.

Gusev was the man of the moment and he admitted it wasn’t Russia’s easiest afternoon. “We didn’t expect it to be quite as tough as that,” he said. “But it was our own fault. When you get ahead in a game, you need to play properly. We should have been better on defense but we got nervous towards the end.

“When you’re up two goals it’s important to stay calm and see it out. As it was, we could have been caught on another counter-attack.”

Head coach Vorobyov had some advice for anyone worried about getting nervous watching Russia at the end of the game. “You can avoid it by sitting on your sofa and watching ‘The Rich also Cry’,” he said, in reference to a TV serial popular in Russia around the turn of the century.

Manninen stars as Finland edges Sweden

Finland got through an epic battle with Sweden thanks to an overtime winner from Sakari Manninen. The forward, recently signed by Salavat Yulaev, crowned an impressive performance with a fine solo effort to win it after a late Marko Anttila goal tied the game at 4-4.

Manninen collected the puck in front of his own net and surged up the ice to wire a shot over Henrik Lundqvist’s shoulder and end Sweden’s two-year reign as World Champion. Earlier, the former Jokerit forward showed great persistence to set up Jani Hakanpaa as Finland made it 3-3.

For Sweden, William Nylander again stood out. His assist on the opening Swedish goal took him to 18 points for this tournament, a new record for his country in a single World Championship. In total Sweden was behind for barely 90 seconds in the first period and never again in regulation – but Manninen’s moment of magic saw the Tre Kronor’s crown tumble.

The other afternoon semi-final saw Canada get past Switzerland – but only just. There were just 0.4 seconds left to play when a Damon Severson point shot got through Leonardo Genoni to tie the game in Kosice at 2-2. In overtime, Mark Stone grabbed Canada’s winner to set up a semi-final against the Czech Republic.

Photo: 23.05.19. 2019 IIHF World Championship. Czech Republic - Germany

The Czechs booked their place in the last four with a win over Germany. Four goals in the third period gave the final scoreline in Bratislava a convincing look as Jakub Voracek, Dominik Kubalik, Ondrej Palat and Jan Kovar lifted Milos Riha’s team to a 5-1 verdict.

Andy Potts Andy Potts
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