The World Junior A Challenge semi-finals started off with one of the most exciting periods of hockey throughout the whole tournament, with Russia earning a berth in the 2015 World Junior A Challenge finals on Saturday thanks to a big 7-4 victory over the United States of America.

With just one loss since 2011, the Americans didn’t want to have their tournament spoiled with a loss to their tenacious rivals from Russia. The team had a few very good chances early, with Vladislav Sukhachev playing at the top of his game and making all the big stops.

The Russians weren’t willing to let their American opponents take an early lead, instead finding the back of the net first themselves. After German Rubtsov sent a backhander towards the net, Ivan Kosorenko was there to tip the puck behind Ryan Bednard, giving the Russians the 1-0 lead at the five-minute mark of the opening period.

With almost 11 minutes off the clock, the Russians found themselves with the two-goal advantage. Mikhail Meshcheryakov would get the goal after stealing the loose puck at the blue line and heading in on net, firing it as hard as he possibly could to beat Bednard in the American net for the 2-0 lead.

With 5:40 left to go in the first period, the Americans found themselves on the board with perhaps one of the more controversial goals of the tournament. Ross Colton would fire the puck into the zone, with the disk bouncing off the glass and back over Vladislav Sukhachev. Colton was in a good spot for the rebound, tapping the puck in the net after it bounced right on top of his stick. The net, however, was off for the entirety of the play, but the goal was still considered to be good and the Americans were all of a sudden back in the game.

With 34 seconds left, the United States got a big goal from the point to send things tied heading into the first intermission. Another defenseman would find themselves on the board, with Keegan Ford firing a hard wrist shot from the point before beating Sukhachev blocker side for the 2-2 goal.

With the Americans playing their third game in three nights, it seemed a bit surprising to see them up 17-3 in shots after 25 minutes. The more shocking thing, however, was that the Russians were able to score their third goal on their third shot of the game. After just 25 seconds into the middle frame, German Rubtsov deked around Bednard and scored Russia’s third goal of the game to keep their perfect scoring record intact.

The Americans would make the Russians pay for not getting many chances in front. Before the second was five minutes old, William Knierem found the runner circle right in front of the crease, beating out a scramble in front to tie things up once again for his country. A few minutes after that, Sukhachev’s night would come to an early end after Max Zimmer poked in a loose puck in the crease, giving the Americans the 4-3 advantage. Sukhachev, the star for Russia against Canada East on Monday, couldn’t find his groove through the half-way point on Thursday, forcing the Russians to put in Mikhail Berdin for the remainder of the game after a 2-0 shutout against Swittzerland on Tuesday.

In case the Russians needed any more craziness, a late goal by their number one centreman would help the team stay in the game heading into the third period. A minute after missing an empty net on the powerplay, Rubtsov got his second of the night after Bednard passed it right to his stick, firing it past the American netminder to tie things up at four heading into the final break of the game.

To make things even more interesting, the Americans decided to make a goalie switch by putting Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Kris Oldham between the pipes for the third. It didn’t give the team immediate success, however, as Dimitrii Alekseev’s point shot went off an American defender and in with five minutes off the clock in the third period.

With about five minutes left in the contest overall, the Russians all but sealed the deal with an incredible play by their top line. Rubtsov, who was having himself one of the best performances of the tournament, made a great pass in front of the crease to  Ivan Kosorenkov, who tapped it in for the 6-4 goal late in the game. It was all Russia needed on Thursday, with an extra empty-netter helping cap off the victory to earn a spot in the gold medal game on Saturday.

With the loss, the Americans will meet with Canada East in a bronze medal showdown on Friday night, a 7:00 pm puck drop in Whitby. The game will mark the fifth straight game in five days for the Americans, who lost two games in one tournament after winning every single battle from 2011-2014. Russia, on the other hand, will meet with the red-hot Canada West squad on Saturday, a 4:00 pm battle in Cobourg for the gold medal.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

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