It was by no means the prettiest game of the World Juniors to date, but head coach Valeri Bragin’s Russian team capitalized on a pair of chances and bunkered down to beat Slovakia 2-1 and finish the round robin with a perfect 4-0 record. Artur Lauta and Yegor Rykov found the net for the Russians, while defenceman Christian Jaros had the lone goal for Slovakia.
With both teams’ berths to the knockout round secured, Thursday’s game was not a do-or-die affair for either and it showed. Under Ernest Bokros, the Slovaks came out seemingly content to sit in the neutral zone and allow the Russians to take the game to them, while Russia consistently misfired on its chances in the first period.
Lauta opened the scoring for Russia at 15:29 of the first period, when he smacked an Alex Mikulovich rebound past Slovak netminder Adam Huska.
The Russians then doubled their lead through Rykov at 9:12 of the second period. The mobile defenceman rifled a shot through traffic past Adam Huska in the immediate aftermath of a goalmouth scramble.
Slovakia got a goal back via defenceman Christian Jaros towards the end of the second period on a seeing-eye shot which evaded Russian goaltender Alex Georgiev.
While both teams pressed in the final twenty minutes, neither really troubled the other’s goaltender; Huska made a few half-decent saves to keep the Slovaks within striking distance, but Bokros’s team simply lacked the offensive talent to break down the defensively-disciplined Russians. An 0-for-7 on the powerplay certainly didn’t do Slovakia any favours in their failed upset bid.
With the win, the 4-0 Russians finish atop Group B and will face surprising minnows Denmark in their quarterfinal. With the loss, the 1-3 Slovaks finish fourth in Group B and will face powerhouse Sweden in their quarterfinal.