The Russians will have a date with the Canadians in the World Championship finals on Sunday, taking down the Americans 4-0 to earn a spot in the gold medal game.
Just under two weeks ago, the same two teams battled it out in an exciting preliminary round game, with the Americans eventually taking the 5-2 victory. This time, however, the Russians came back hungrier than ever. Finishing just two points behind the Americans for first in Group B, the Russians added Alex Ovechkin for the semi-finals just days after the Washington Capitals were eliminated by the New York Rangers in the NHL playoffs. The scoring superstar proved to be a welcome addition to the team, taking two shots right off the back as the Russians tried to grab the game’s first goal.
Right off the bat, Winnipeg Jets prospect Connor Hellebuyck was the best player in the game. Easily a contender for the top goaltender of the tournament, Hellebuyck had to be really busy early on. A few big stops on Ovechkin and Artemi Panarin proved that point, and he had to be really quick on a save on Jake Gardiner, his own defenseman, who almost headbutted the puck into his own net. After it was all said and done in the first, Hellebuyck would finish with ten saves, just one less than the busier Sergei Bobrovsky at the other end, who mainly faced low quality shots right away.
As good as Hellebuyck was in the game, stopping nine shots in the first ten minutes of the second, the Russians looked like the much better team. The Americans struggled in their own zone, allowing the likes of Panarin and Kovalchuk to get great scoring chances around the crease. Hellebuyck was able to get the best save of the game during a penalty kill, making a huge shoulder save on a bat-in chance by Vadim Shipachyov, keeping the game tied in a match that really shouldn’t have been.
At the other end, Bobrovsky had to be sharp at the end of the period. A big stop on future NHL superstar Jack Eichel with a few minutes left was a good example of that, getting across in time to make a big pad save after some big American momentum. Some other good stops on Dylan Larkin and Seth Jones helped keep the game tied, giving fans in Prague their second big goaltending battle of the day just hours after Mike Smith and Ondrej Pavelec did a good job in the first game. By the end of the day, Bobrovsky would finish with the 35-save shutout, putting on one of the best goaltending performances of the World Championships.
Finally, after 47 minutes of play, the Russians finally were able to find the back of the net for the first time in the game. After Sergei Bobrovsky deflected the puck away, Sergei Mozyakin stole the puck and went end to end, firing the puck between the legs of Hellebuyck from the high slot to make it 1-0 Russia.
A few minutes later, Ovechkin would give his team their second goal of the game. After performing rather well throughout the contest, he was final rewarded after Justin Faulk blew a tire at the blue line, handing the puck right over to Ovechkin who ripped a shot into the back of the net.
The Russians would make it 3-0 with 4:30 left in the game to really cement the victory. After another defensive meltdown in the American zone, Nikolai Kulemin won a battle along the boards before sending the puck off to Vadim Shipachyov, who was left at the doorstep before tapping it in for the 3-0 goal. Evgeni Malkin would grab his fourth goal of the tournament with under two minutes to go to give Russia the 4-0 lead, which would last until the final buzzer to give the team the 4-0 victory.
With the win, Russia will face Canada for the gold medal game at 2:15pm EST on Sunday. The Americans will look to tackle the hometown Czechs earlier in the day, with the two semi-final losers battling it out in the bronze medal game at 10:15am EST.
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