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Russia outlasts Canada in Thriller
Could it really have ended any other way? Is anyone really surprised? While not being the typical Canada vs Russia contest that most of us have become accustomed to, it was a battle to the very end and it was an ending that Team Canada will not forget anytime soon. With the 6-5 victory, the Russians will now face Team Sweden in the Gold Medal game.
Edmonton - January 4, 2012 - Could it really have ended any other way? Is anyone really surprised? It seems whenever these two great hockey nations square-off, something special always happens. These two have been playing classic games against one other since 1972 and that tradition continued last night in Calgary, during semi-final action of the 2012 World Junior Championship. While not being the typical Canada vs Russia contest that most of us have become accustomed to, it was a battle to the very end and it was an ending that Team Canada will not forget anytime soon.
Led by a three goal and four point performance from captain Evgeni Kuznetsov the Russians had utterly annihilated Canada through fifty minutes of play and found themselves with what seemed like an insurmountable five defaecate. Against any other team that lead would have been safe but against Team Canada it's never over until the final whistle. Canada would score four in a five minute span and nearly pull off the unthinkable but the comeback would fall just short. With the 6-5 victory, the Russians will now face Team Sweden in the Gold Medal game Thursday night while Canada will have to settle for the Bronze Medal match against Finland.
Russia would open the scoring at the 7:26 mark when a poor pass from Ryan Murray set the visitors on a three-on-two break. Kuznetzov took the feed from Nail Yakupov and fired a shot that would deflect off a sliding Murray and past netminder Scott Wedgewood. A tough all around play for the talented Team Canada defender but his troubles were just getting started.
With Canada on the power play, Jonathan Huberdeau appeared to tie it up but netminder Andrei Vasilevski somehow got his pad on a goalmouth shot from the Florida's first round selection. It was an enormous stop and one that would loom even larger, moments later. Russia would make it 2-0 on the power play, when Nikita Nesterov's point shot was redirected by Murray past a stunned Wedgewood and just like that, Canada was down a pair heading to the first intermission.
Canada would come out flying to start the second and both Freddie Hamilton and Brett Connolly had shots ring off the post on the same shift. However, their hard work would pay off when Connolly ripped a laser over Vasilevski's shoulder, on a delayed penalty, to pull Canada to with in one. The momentum seemed to be swinging to the home side but Kuznetzov would change that less then two minutes later.
The talented forward restored the two goal lead when his shot would once again deflect off Murray and past Wedgewood. In Murray's defence, the shot took the slightest of deflections off his stick before beating his goaltender. Wedgewood was buried so deep in his blue paint that he would have been beaten cleanly, even without the deflection. Personally, I found the choice of starting Wedgewood a curious one. Considering the plan coming into the tournament was to go with the older Mark Visentin, it seemed odd to not have him in goal against the Russians in the semi-finals. Regardless of the decision, Canada needed a stop from their goalie and Wedgewood was not up to the challenge.
Just over four minutes later, Kuznetzov would complete the hat-trick on a god awful line change that saw all five Team Canada skaters come off at the same time and allowing the Russains in on a two-on-nothing break. Kuznetzov would make no mistake and made a wonderful move to beat Wedgewood and send the crowd into a stunned silence. That was it for Wedgewood as he was replaced by Visentin. Unfortunately for Canada, he didn't fair much better as Russia would score on their first attempt, when Alexander Khokhlachev buried a quick shot under the crossbar on the power play. That made it 5-1 and the game was only half over.
With the game now spiraling out of control, Canada started to lose their cool. Boone Jenner was tossed after spearing Kuznetzov and Huberdeaau took a slashing misconduct with less then two minutes to play in the period. The Jenner penalty was most troubling, as Canada was headed to the power play before Jenner decided to stick it to the Russian star. One could debate if the major was deserved but it was a penalty at the very least and an undisciplined one at that.
The lead would be stretched to five when Nikita Kucherov finished a pretty passing play on a delayed penalty and it seemed all but over with just over twelve minutes left to play. Dougie Hamilton would score on the power play to make 6-2 at the 9:20 mark. Jaden Schwartz would cut the lead to three only twenty-three seconds later, when he banged in a shot off a Russian defender and Canada suddenly had some life.
Brendan Gallagher would tip in Hamilton't point shot past Vasilevski at 11:59 to make it 6-4 and just over two minutes later, Canada would cut the lead down to one. Brandon Gormley's point shot beat a screened Vasilevski and Canada had their second power play marker of the period and fourth goal in just under five minutes. The dream was still alive and the Saddledome were going crazy.
In what some would call a gutsy move and others would call crazy, Russian head coach Valeri Bragin, decided to pull his starting goalie and replace him with Andrei Makarov with just under six minutes to go. Canada not only had all the momentum but now had an ice cold goalie to face. Seemed like a perplexing move but it was one that paid off for the Russians. Canada fired seven shots at the backup netminder and he stopped them all, while getting a little help from his goal post. With just under a minute to play, Ryan Strome had the Russian netminder beat but rang it off the post and Connolly fired the rebound into Makarov's pad and that was it. Canada outshot the Russians 56-24 and while the Russians made the most of their chances, Canada simply did not get the goaltending you need in these type of games.
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