Russia’s run at the World Cup of Hockey has come to an end, after today’s defeat by Canada in the tournament’s semi-final. Read on, for a bit of a match report and some quick thoughts on Russia’s tournament as a whole!
Team Russia’s head coach Oleg Znarok had replaced the injured Pavel Datsyuk with Vadim Shipachyov for the key game against Finland, but despite Shipachyov earning an assist in that game, he was returned to the pressbox for the semi-final. With Datsyuk also still unavailable, Nikita Nesterov of the Tampa Bay Lightning drew in. Sergei Bobrovsky, so reliable all tournament long, got the start in goal for Russia.
The the latest installment in the legendary 60-year hockey rivalry between Canada and Russia started in fairly even fashion, but the Canadians began to assert themselves as the first period went along. A breakthrough for the home team duly arrived, and to nobody’s surprise it was Sidney Crosby who tucked the puck past Bobrovsky, after dispossessing Dmitry Kulikov. 1-0 for the home side, and Canada continued to press, forcing Bobrovsky to be alert on several occasions. Russia escaped the first period with no further damage on the scoreboard, but the second period simply brought more of the same, with the Russian goalie once again facing a series of good chances for the Canadians.
But hockey is a funny game sometimes, and in the midst of the Canadian pressure, there, suddenly, was Nikita Kucherov flying down the right wing, looking off the defence, and whipping a shot past Carey Price to even the contest at one. Canada came back hard looking to regain the lead, but Bobrovsky (and, on one occasion, the crossbar), kept the score tied. Then, late in the second frame, Yevgeny Dadonov passed the puck out from behind the Canadian net looking for Ivan Telegin. The pass ricocheted off Telegin’s shin, and Yevgeny Kuznetsov was on hand to flick it out of mid-air and deposit it past Price. Russia had the lead, 2-1.
It did not, however, last long. Just over a minute later, Crosby involved himself again, this time setting up Brad Marchand for the equalizer. And though Russia had a chance or two to retake the lead, the second period ended with the teams on level terms at two apiece.
The third period was where it all fell apart for Znarok and his crew. The final frame was only 1:16 old when Canada took the lead; it was Marchand again, and once again Crosby playing provider for his third point of the night. By the midway point of the period, Corey Perry and John Tavares had increased the Canadian lead to three, and Russia faced a steep and difficult climb to get back in it. In the end, there was simply not enough time; Artemy Panarin scored a late consolation goal, but the game ended 5-3, and it is Canada who will advance face either Sweden or Team Europe in the tournament’s best-of-three final.
There will be much disappointment over Russia’s failure to get by Canada, and indeed the team relied too much on the heroics of Bobrovsky to get as far as it did. Questions no doubt will be asked of Znarok, in particular why he did not keep faith with the line of Panarin, Dadonov, and Shipachyov that wreaked such havoc on the opposition during the recent World Championship. However, Russian Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretyak poured some cold water recently on any ideas that Znarok’s job might be at risk.
And there were certainly some bright spots to Russia’s performance at the World Cup, even beyond the stellar play of Bobrovsky. The Russians were somewhat unlucky to lose to Sweden in regulation, were the only squad to defeat the fast, skilled, young North American team, and finally overcame their recent Bête Noire, Finland, in a game they absolutely had to win. And in the end, though definitely second-best in the semi-final, Team Russia gave the powerhouse Canadians as good a fight as anybody has at this tournament so far.
So what next? For the KHL contingent in the team, it is back to work as that league’s regular season rolls along. Shipachyov, Dadonov, and the coaching staff will return to SKA St. Petersburg, while Telegin will be back in the colours of CSKA Moscow. Most of the NHLers will head for their respective training camps. However, there are some questions surrounding Kucherov, a Restricted Free Agent who remains un-signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning. While it is likely that a deal will eventually get done there, until that happens, Lightning fans may worry about the fact that CSKA have apparently offered Kucherov a contract.
In the meantime, however, respect to Team Russia (and particularly to Bobrovsky) for a tournament in which they probably exceeded at least the expectations of many North American pundits, if not their own hopes.