Alright in the End: The World Championship Quarterfinals
Thursday was quarter-final day at the 2016 World Championship, and it found Russia facing off against an unheralded German team. An easy victory, it appeared, especially given the scintillating form that Team Russia has shown in large stretches of the past few games. But oh, there was to be a nervous, nervous time for the home fans in Moscow… read on.
Whether through nerves or over-excitement, Russia had a dreadful start to the game, and Germany punished them for it by taking a shock lead less than five minutes in. The hosts’ defending was non-existent, as goalie Sergei Bobrovsky first stopped Moritz Müller, then flat-out robbed Patrick Hager all alone in the slot, and finally managed to prevent Patrick Reimer stuffing home the rebound of Hager’s effort. It was all for naught; two heart-beats later, Alexei Marchenko gave the puck away cheaply, and Reimer skated un-molested to the front of the net before wristing past the beleaguered Russian netminder. The scoreboard flashed to 1-0, and Head Coach Oleg Znarok could not have been pleased.
Russia gradually did find their legs as the first period went on, and it was the turn of Thomas Greiss in the German goal to come under some pressure. The New York Islanders netminder had to fend off a Pavel Datsyuk backhand before Vyacheslav Voynov’s shot found the post, and Russian chances continued to come. Vadim Shipachyov, the tournament’s leading scorer, had the best of them, but his one-timer from a bad angle was somehow turned away by the heel of Greiss’s glove. For all their late pressure, Russia could not find the equalizer, and were lucky not to go behind by two in dying seconds of the first period; a cross-ice pass bounced off of Germany’s Leon Draisaitl and hit the outside of Bobrovsky’s left-hand post.
And so amazingly it was still 1-0 for Germany at the first break, although Russia’s play had improved in the later minutes, and the shots on goal favoured them 13-6. For Znarok, the message in the dressing room had to be to have some faith, show some patience, and basically keep calm and carry on. This his team did, and the reward arrived quickly after play resumed. The second period was only half a minute old when Yevgeny Dadonov’s shot on the turn was well-saved by Greiss. But Dadonov recovered his own rebound behind the net and sent the puck through the back door to his SKA St. Petersburg team-mate Shipachyov, who was uncovered in front. With Greiss now out of position from the original save, Shipachyov had the full 24 square feet of net to shoot at, and he made no mistake at all. One goal apiece, and the relief and jubilation from the Moscow crowd was understandably heartfelt.
Now the floodgates opened, as the Russian players must have felt an immense weight off their shoulders. They certainly played like it; first Sergei Mozyakin and then Roman Lyubimov were foiled only by good work from Greiss, who faced ten shots in opening seven minutes of the middle period. The eleventh got past him, however. Shipachyov’s centering pass found Dadonov sneaking into the slot with perfect timing, and he turned it, just barely, past Greiss to put Russia deservedly in front 2-1.
Although Bobrovsky did have to be sharp to stop Korbinian Holzer a little later, it now felt as though it was only a matter of time before Russia ran away with the game. The hosts’ powerplay drew two more spectacular saves from Greiss, off Datsyuk and the still-goalless Alexander Ovechkin. But the third Russian goal duly arrived, as Shipachyov and Ivan Telegin gave a clinic on running a two-on-one. Shipachyov carried the puck in at speed, and fed Telegin, who drew Greiss across the net. Right back to Shipachyov went the puck, and he had nothing but empty net to shoot at. His second goal, and the third point, of the encounter made it 3-1. It could easily have been 4-1 in the last moments of the second, as Ovechkin found himself clean through on goal, but he shot wide and Russia took just a two-goal cushion into the second break.
Now the emphasis for Team Russia was simply on not messing things up, and they got a boost in that regard early in the third, when Ovechkin finally ended his goal-scoring drought at this year’s Worlds. Roman Lyubmov carried the puck into the German zone, executed a perfect cross-over with Ovechkin, and left the puck to Washington Capitals star in the process. Ovechkin simply skated it in and snapped a clinical wrist-shot past Greiss. The goal put the game pretty much beyond doubt, but the psychological boost for Ovechkin may turn out to be the bigger positive from the play.
In any case, at this point the game settled down. There were a few chances, at both ends, but Russia seemed content to run out the clock, and the Germans could not muster much of an argument. Bobrovsky was called upon a couple of times, and Greiss likewise, but the main excitement was over and done with. Four-one it finished, and it must be said that the Germans, Greiss in particular, can exit the tournament with their heads high. This was their first visit to the quarter-finals since 2011, and they put a real scare into Team Russia during that first period. Germany will leave the 2016 Worlds with four wins, including one over the United States, and four losses; in short, they did well.
Russia can look back at the quarterfinals with some mixed feelings. That nervous beginning was not what was called-for, and must not be repeated, but when Russia did get the ship righted it was spectacular to see. The line of Shipachyov, Dadonov, and Artemy Panarin is going so well right now that they seem to threaten just about every time they are on the ice. Ovechkin now has himself a goal, which hopefully will lead to more. And, although they did not make the scoresheet against Germany, we should not forget about Pavel Datsyuk and Sergei Mozyakin (nor about Lyubimov and Telegin, who are having an eye-opening time at the Worlds).
And so for Team Russia, the biggest test of these Worlds so far awaits on Saturday, against Finland in the semi-finals. At first glance, there seems little to separate the two squads. Finland’s record stands at a perfect 8-0, while Russia’s is 7-1. The goals for and goals against are very close as well: 34-7 for Finland, and 36-10 for Russia. The top five on the points chart at the tournament so far includes three Russians (Shipachyov, who leads with 16 points, Panarin, and Dadonov, of course) and two Finns (Patrik Laine and Mikael Granlund). So it should, indeed, be a fascinating encounter! For the winner will await a meeting with either Canada or the United States, who face off in Saturday’s other semifinal. The final and the bronze medal game will go ahead on Sunday, bringing an end to this highly entertaining tournament.
Thank you for reading!