What: World Junior Championships Semi-Finals, Russia vs Sweden
When: January 4th, 2015 (4pm EST)
Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario
TV: Canada: TSN/RDS, USA: NHL Network-US, Belarus: Bel TV, Czech Republic: Česká televize, Finland: MTV3, Russia: NTV+, Slovakia: STV, Sweden: SVT/Visat
How they got here: In what was expected to be an easy rollover in the first game of the tournament, Russia barely was able to contain the pesky Danes in a 3-2 shootout thriller to begin the event. Denmark got off to a 2-0 lead early in the game but after being unable to hold it after 60 minutes, Nikolay Goldobin was able to give Russia the victory with a fluky shootout goal to end the game. Two days later, Russia flew up the standings after defeating the Swiss by a commanding score of 7-0, easily their most dominant game of the tournament. The Russians then went to play a spectacular game against their next opponents, the Swedes, but the boys in yellow ultimately took the 3-2 victory, a game that could have truly gone either way. After losing the close match, Russia took to the ice in a battle with the Czech’s who struggled throughout the tournament. Unfortunately for the Russians, the effort was totally lost for most of the 60 minutes, allowing the Czech’s avoid relegation thanks to a big 4-1 victory to finish off the preliminary round. With all expectations high for the Americans in the quarter-finals, it almost looked like the first elimination game was pretty much pre-determined from the start. However, the Russians took advantage of a very undisciplined American team, advancing to the semi’s with an important 3-2 victory, putting them in the medal round once again.
Player to watch: Ivan Barbashev, F – Barbashev may not have taken the tournament by storm, but this future St. Louis Blues superstar will surely be one to keep an eye on when the competition gets tough. A dynamic scoring threat with some of the best skill in the tournament, Barbashev scored 1 goal with 1 assist and was +1 in seven games as Russia won a bronze medal at the 2014 World Juniors. Before that, Barbashev won gold at the 2012 World U-17 Hockey Challenge, putting up six points in five games. This year, his five points in five games have had a bigger impact, Barbashev is one of the QMJHL’s top two-way forwards with the Moncton Wildcats and will likely get a chance to see some NHL action in the next two years. Barbashev will need to step up against Sweden, arguably one of the best teams in all three zones of the ice.
Biggest question: How will the defense hold up against Sweden’s high flying offense?
How they got here: In the opening game for both Sweden and the Czech Republic, it was a bit of a sloppy game with both sides turning the puck over often and directly leading to a couple of the goals for each side. In the end, the Swedes took a 5-2 win in the second game of Group B action. In the second game against Denmark, Swedish captain Jacob de la Rose had a strong game, registering three points while goalie Linus Soderstrom stopped 19 of 20 shots for his second win, giving the Tre Kronor the 5-1 victory. Russia and Sweden battled battled it out in game for three intense periods that ended with a 3-2 win for Sweden. In their game against Switzerland, the power play powered Sweden to the big 5-1 win, as it had in the earlier contests as well. It wasn’t much different on Friday in their quarter-final match as Sweden scored three power play goals and went perfect, yet again, on the penalty kill en route to a 6-3 win over their bitter rivals, Finland. Sweden’s Lucas Wallmark netted two goals and Linus Soderstrom stopped 30 of 33 to send Sweden to the semi-finals against the Russians.
Player to watch: Jacob de la Rose, F – de la Rose has been quiet so far, but that’s what makes him dangerous; you never know when to expect him. With four points in five games, just one point less than his AHL numbers this year with the Hamilton Bulldogs, de la Rose hasn’t stepped up as a huge offensive threat, but he hasn’t needed too. He’s been consistently one of the better players on Sweden due to his strong two-way and forechecking ability that the team has truly benefited from. Having previously won two silver medals at the World Juniors, de la Rose knows what it takes to reach the finals in a situation like this, and with the C on the jersey this time around, his leadership has never come into question. He wasn’t overly spectacular against the Swedes in their meeting earlier in the tournament, but with medals on the line, expect the future Montreal Canadiens forward to have an impact when it counts the most.
Biggest question: Will the power-play be the deciding factor once again?
The Swedes won the first meeting of the tournament between the two teams, and they’re pretty much unstoppable. Expect a close one, but Sweden should be able to come out on top at the end.
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