Team Russia’s tournament-opening loss to Sweden at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey meant that backs were to the wall for them very early, with victory suddenly vital in Game 2 of the group stage against the North American team. It would not be easy, as the young Can-Am side had pretty much done what it wanted in its own opener against Finland. But in the end, the Russians came through; read on, for a quick match report!
Oleg Znarok made one change to the team that had lost to Sweden, dropping forward Vadim Shipachyov in favour of Vladislav Namestnikov. But Russia’s second game began much as had its first, with Znarok’s crew on the back foot against the speedy and skilled young North Americans, and the game was only five minutes old when Auston Matthews put the puck past Sergei Bobrovsky for a 1-0 lead. North America continued to find chances, but the first period came to an end with only that single North American goal on the board.
That was important, because the game suddenly swung around in six minutes during the middle of the second period. First, Russia equalized on a bit of a lucky play, as North American goalie Matt Murray accidentally back-heeled the puck into his own net after it came off the post; the newly-activated Namestnikov got the credit. Less than a minute later the disk found its way to Nikita Kucherov alone in front, and he made no mistake to put Russia ahead. Then it was the turn of Yevgeny Kuznetsov, racing down the right wing and snapping a shot past Murray to make it 3-1. And the onslaught still wasn’t over; Vladimir Tarasenko soon made it 4-1, and ended Murray’s night as John Gibson came on in relief. At that point, Russia had scored on four straight shots, after opening the game with 15 fruitless ones.
But this North American team is very good, and the drama was far from over. Before the end of the second period, Morgan Rielly made it 4-2, and when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored early in the third, we were in for a nerve-wracking finale. It did not get any less tense when Russia found themselves down two men for long stretch, but they survived, thanks to Bobrovsky and a fortuitous North American too-many-men penalty. And though Dmitry Orlov took a tripping penalty with 40 seconds to play and the Russian goal under siege, it ended 4-3, and Oleg Znarok’s troops still have life in this tournament.
Znarok has some thinking to do before Russia finishes up the group stage of the tournament against Finland on Thursday. His team was badly outshot (46-25 was the final tally), and was also guilty of some undisciplined play in that crucial third period. However, that is for tomorrow; for now, Russia can celebrate a thrilling and much-needed victory. While that second-period flurry of scoring was lovely to see, Bobrovsky was obviously the main story; on the eve of his 28th birthday, the man from Novokuznetsk made 43 saves in a truly splendid performance. On to Thursday, and Finland!