Alessandro Seren Rosso Alessandro Seren Rosso
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Russia defeated Sweden in an OT thriller after the latter had 54 consecutive victories in the WJC group stage. Marat Khusnutdinov's goal in OT sends Russia to the top of Group B standings, with two games still to be played tomorrow.

Yegor Chinakhov is still out of the lineup, while Yaroslav Askarov is back between the piping. The Swedish lost their last round-robin game in 2006.

The Russians started the game on the attack, literally creating chances since the first minute. Podkolzin crashed the net with a swift move, while Rodion Amirov sent the rebound back home, but the refs called the goal out for goalie interference.

"The refs know if it was a goal or not," Yegor Afanasyev said in the intermission. "They have their assistants and the possibility to watch replays." Two minutes later, Elmer Soderblom tested Askarov, who stopped his shot from close range. However, the start of the game was clearly more on the Russian side, with a very active play that created several chances, particularly with a powerful shot by Zakhar Bardakov stopped by Jesper Wallstedt. After eight minutes, the Russians went ahead, this time for good. Gritsyuk won the puck between the Swedish crease, Abramov picked it up and sent it to Yegor Afanasyev, who buried it stick-side for a deserved Team Russia lead. "Mikhail Abramov gave me a fantastic pass," Afanasyev exlained. "I could only score."

The Larionov's troop continued attacking and showing its puck-possession game. Midway through the first period they could enjoy their first powerplay opportunity after Alexander Holtz was sent to the sin-bin for tripping. After yet another chance by Podkolzin, Askarov misplayed the puck behind the Russian crease, but Mikhail Abramov saved the team with a prompt intervention in the D-zone, then launching a fast break that almost resulted in another goal - this time Wallstedt stopped Ilya Safonov's shot from the slot keeping the Tre Kronor's hopes alive.

Although the Russians enjoyed a certain advantage, Team Sweden managed to find its way in the O-zone and tied things up with five minutes to the first horn with Arvid Costmar. Shortly after, the teams exchanged penalties, with first the Russians killing it off with some five minutes to play. The Red Machine had a fantastic chance with ninety seconds to go in the first stanza when Afanasyev fed Semyon Chistyakov in the slot with Wallstedt replying with an excellent save. However, a few minutes later, the Russians went ahead once again on a perfect play by the first line with Podkolzin sending the puck to Amirov, who just had to put it in the open net. "I'm glad that our leaders scored key goals tonight", Larionov said after the game. "We discussed with them, and they played well in a difficult game that needed a lot of character and patience."

The second period started with the Russians again on the attack, with Artemi Knyazev rattling the goalpost with a long-range shot. Also, Askarov was called to action when Holtz shot from a favorable position after five minutes in the middle frame. Even though Sweden gained some space, the most significant chance in the early second period was for the Russians, when Vasily Ponomaryov found Maxim Groshev right in front of the crease. Still, the Vityaz forward couldn't find the back of the net.

With a bit less than 12 minutes to go, Artemi Knyazev was caught in a foul play and sent to the penalty crease. Askarov had a couple of excellent saves - particularly on Lucas Raymond - and the Red Machine enjoyed its share of luck when a shot by Holtz hit the crossbar on Askarov's right side.

The Russians killed the penalty off, but Knyazev was again sent to the sin-bin for a second Swedish powerplay. Once again, the Red Machine's box play succeeded, but soon the Tre Kronor tied things up again, with Holtz finding his first of the tournament scoring on his own rebound.

The Russians tried to respond by icing the first line, but things were further complicated for them when first Rodion Amirov, then Mikhail Abramov were sent out, and the Tre Kronor had the chance to start the third period with a powerplay. After two periods, the shot count was 27-21 in Sweden's favor. The Russians had four consecutive penalties, and the second period wasn't the best for Larionov's team. "We know that we shouldn't get penalties in the second period," Khusnutdinov said after the game. "We'll try to keep on working and improving our game."

"It's always hard to play shorthand so much against such a strong opponent," Larionov explained. "But it was yet another lesson for us, and I hope that the guys will keep on showing their best game."

The teams started out playing a more conservative game in the third period, knowing that any mistake would be lethal. The Red Machine could count on a powerplay around the midway mark when Holtz was caught tripping. The Russians got the most advantage of the situation when Kirill Kirsanov sent it home with a fantastic shot that went in after rattling the goalpost right over Wallstedt's shoulder, giving the Red Machine the third lead of the night.

In the remainder of the third period, the Russians played a tight defensive game without leaving room for Team Sweden. The Tre Kronor's coach decided to pull his goalie with two minutes to go, and the move paid out as Noel Gunler sent the game to OT.

In extra-time, the teams tried to be as more accurate as possible, but, after a tremendous save by Askarov, the Tre Kronor allowed a powerplay to the Russians that ended up being lethal for the team. With the man advantage and less than 30 seconds to go, Marat Khusnutdinov picked up the rebound after a shot by Podkolzin and sent it home past Wallstedt for a deserved Red Machine victory that may mean the first place in Group B standings.

"Abramov had a great play to give us a powerplay chance," Khusnutdinov said after the game. "Then, I just picked up a rebound and scored, that's all" - he added.

"It wasn't an easy game, but this is the kind of hockey that we're waiting for from now on," Larionov said after the game. "In a game like this, you need to try to get an advantage of any play at your disposal to score a goal. The guys had a great attitude, they stayed calm, and it paid off."

On Tuesday, Team USA and Team Sweden will face determining the final standings and quarterfinals placements. Team Russia will be back on Jan. 2 with the quarterfinals game. The Red Machine's opponent will be either Germany or Slovakia.

Main Photo - Codie McLachlan/Getty Sport /

Alessandro Seren Rosso Alessandro Seren Rosso
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