After being up 4-1 after thirty-two minutes, the Russians lacked some discipline in the third period, allowing two goals to the Americans. However, the team led by Igor Larionov was resilient at the end and a late, empty-net goal by Yegor Chinakhov gave the Russians a deserved 5-3 win. Vasili Ponomaryov netted a double, and Yaroslav Askarov posted 23 saves. "We had a great commitment, we managed to play as a unit for most of the game. I liked the team's responsibility - they played well," a satisfied Larionov said after the game. "The more you have the puck, the less your opponent has - we also had a good forechecking effort."
Yan Kuznetsov picked up the game's first penalty after four minutes, but the Russians killed it off without leaving space to the Americans. Larionov's third and fourth lines were the most active in the early first period, and they opened the score after eight minutes when Vasili Ponomaryov deflected a blue-line shot by Artemi Knyazev. The Americans had their first shot on goal only after twelve minutes but then gained space and tied things up with Cam York. The Americans had another chance a few shifts later, but this time Askarov had a couple of big saves after the Russian defense failed to clear the slot. However, the Russians managed to stand firm and gained their first powerplay of the night with three minutes to go in the opening stanza. The Russians attacked for most of the remaining time, but the teams went to the locker room still tied at one. "The Americans managed to tie things up, but we are in great shape, and we're ready to show our best hockey when the game resumes," Vasili Ponomaryov said in the first intermission.
The second period started with the American pushing, but the Russians found the go-ahead goal when Maxim Groshev fed Zakhar Bardakov with a marvelous vertical pass, and the Vityaz forward beat Spencer Knight for the second Russian lead of the night. However, a few minutes later, Bardakov himself was sent to the sin-bin for high-sticking. This time, Team USA managed to have a couple of good shots, but Askarov was ready. With the teams back on even strength, the Russians had a good forecheck, and Ponomaryov again found the back of the net for his second of the night. With the Russians up by two goals, in an attempt to save some time for his team to start an offensive play, Knight misplayed the puck, and Ilya Safonov only had to shoot it in the open net for his team's 4-1 lead. At this point, Nate Leaman had no other choice than recall Knight to the bench and ice his backup Dustin Wolf, who passed his first test a few minutes later when he stopped a breakaway attempt by Groshev.
"We worked hard," Safonov said in the post-game press conference. "We worked hard and created many moments early in the game, and this helped us winning."
In the third period, the Americans still tried to turn the tide. After a few unsuccessful attempts, John Farinacci went top-shelf after a rebound to cut the Russian lead shorter by one goal with ten minutes still to be played. After a couple of chances on the Russian side, Marat Khusnutdinov picked up a very unwelcomed penalty, but the Red Machine killed it off once again. However, another penalty to Safonov with three minutes to go had a different outcome when Trevor Zegras beat Askarov for the 4-3 goal.
"4-1 is a dangerous score," Larionov said after the game. "Anything can happen in a tournament of this level. It was our first game in the tournament, against a strong opponent. I think that Askarov played very well - he was a bit worried, but I think that he helped us in the end of the game."
With a minute to the final horn, the Americans benched the goalie for a sixth skater, but Yegor Chinakhov scored his first in the tournament to seal the deal.
"Both Chinakhov and Gritsyuk played well," Larionov recognized. "They are still finding their game, but I'm sure they will even improve."
"We played our game, tried to play our hockey, but more aggressive, and I'm sure that it will be even better as the tournament goes on," Ponomaryov said after the game. "I'm feeling so good to play under Larionov - he's a legend, not only in Russia, and he can become known in all-over the world."
"We tried to follow the game-plan, played a simpler game, and it worked. We shouldn't forget that it was our first game, there's a lot to work on, but we're ready to go on with our tournament," Ponomaryov concluded.
Team Russia will play its next game on Dec. 27 against the Czech Republic.
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