TORONTO, CANADA - JANUARY 4: Russia's Alexander Sharov #23 celebrates after giving his team a 1-0 lead over Sweden during semifinal action at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Russia going for first gold since 2011
Two goals by Alexander Sharov buoyed the Russians to a 4-1 semi-final win over Sweden. Russia will play the Canada-Slovakia winner for gold on Monday.
"I just shot twice and the puck went into the net both times," said Sharov. "Maybe I had some kind of luck."
"It's a great feeling," Russia's Rinat Valiev said. "I've been wanting this all my life. I'm pretty excited."
It's the Russians' first trip to the final since 2012 (a 1-0 loss to Sweden), and they haven’t won this tournament since shocking Canada with a huge third-period comeback for a 5-3 victory in the 2011 gold medal game in Buffalo.
2011 was also the last time Russia defeated Sweden in a playoff round game, prevailing 4-3 in the semi-finals on Denis Golubev's shootout winner.
Could the stars be aligning for another gold medal for head coach Valeri Bragin? His team has proved its mettle in two big playoff wins so far.
"We had a couple of pretty hard games against the U.S. and Sweden," said Russia's Ivan Barbashyov. "We know how to play, and we’ll be playing the same way we played today and two days ago."
The Russians fully merited Sunday's victory at the Air Canada Centre, playing with intensity and taking advantage of opportunities they created for themselves. Shots on goal favoured Russia 31-27.
"It was a matter of scoring," said Sharov. "In the first game [against Sweden, a 3-2 round-robin loss], we had chances and didn’t score -- this time we scored four goals. Russia had an advantage in both games. The coach gave us the task to play hard and disciplined, and we tried to achieve it."
Sweden’s tournament-leading power play and penalty-killing proved to be for naught here. The Swedes looked uncharacteristically flat, tentative, and disorganized -- at the worst possible time.
"We didn’t play our best hockey," said captain Jacob de la Rose. "It’s sad in a big game like this."
The result ended a recent streak of Swedish dominance versus Russia. Prior to this game, the Swedes had won four straight playoff round meetings with Russia, including the 2012 gold medal game, and 10 out of the last 11 games overall.
For the first time since 2012, the blue-and-yellow boys will not appear in the final.
Ziat Paigin and Maxim Mamin scored the other goals for Russia, and Vladimir Bryukvin had a pair of helpers.
Lucas Wallmark had the lone tally for Sweden.
Russia's Igor Shestyorkin, who also backstopped his nation to the 3-2 quarter-final win over the United States, won the goaltending duel with previously unbeaten Swedish starter Linus Soderstrom.
"Our players did a great job in the defence blocking shots and capitalizing on the chances," said Shestyorkin. "Before the game I had expected many more shots but my teammates did a great job."
Gustav Forsling, Sweden's best defenceman at these World Juniors, didn't have kind words for the Russian goalie: "He's not a very good goalie, and we should have gotten more shots through, gotten more rebounds. We passed too much when we should have been shooting. He gives up a lot of rebounds."
The Russians dominated a scoreless and relatively bloodless first period, outshooting Sweden 12-6.
With 5:51 left in the first, Mamin crunched defenceman William Lagesson with a hit from behind in the corner to Soderstrom’s left. Lagesson lay on the ice while the trainer attended to him. The referees conferred before giving Mamin a two-minute minor and a misconduct from checking from behind.
The Russians opened the scoring at 11:18 of the second period on a beautiful passing play on the rush. Coming down the middle, Golyshev found Sharov in the left faceoff circle, and he let fly a wrister that beat Soderstrom high to the glove.
Russia jumped into a 2-0 lead just 1:32 later on the power play, as Paigin stepped into a bomb from the top of the right faceoff circle.
Keeping it close, Soderstrom made a brilliant save a few minutes later when the Sharov line came knocking on his door again, and kept it out with Pavel Buchnevich's trio buzzing around his crease.
The Russians just kept on coming. They thought they’d taken a three-goal lead with a minute to play in the second. Dergachyov rushed to the net with a Swedish defender on top of him, and the puck wound up going off his left skate and over the line just as the net was dislodged. After video review, it was deemed no goal.
At 1:31 of the third, Sharov devastatingly made it 3-0. Capitalizing on a Swedish turnover, Maxim Maxim got the puck on the side boards and found Bryukvin in the middle. He got it to Sharov, who zinged it home before Soderstrom could react.
"When you’re down 3-0 on the scoreboard, it’s a hard situation against Russia," said Anton Karlsson.
The Swedes had to take chances in hopes of getting back into it, but the Russian counterattack remained dangerous. Forsling hustled back to foil Golyshev's breakaway attempt with a nice stick check.
With 8:30 remaining, Wallmark gave Sweden a little life when he cruised through the slot and backhanded a puck through his legs that slid past Shestyorkin to make it 3-1. It was his fourth goal of the tournament.
Thirty seconds later, a Swedish shot from the slot almost squeezed behind Shestyorkin, but the Russian goalie lay back and just managed to cover it up.
The Russians promptly countered to make it 4-1 at 12:39. On a 2-on-1 break, Soderstrom got his left pad on Ivan Fishenko's blast, but the puck rebounded to Mamin, who shook off his check and put it home.
"In the first game against Sweden we also created many chances but didn’t score much," said Shestyorkin. "But in the semi-final we were more attentive, probably because of the importance of the game."
There would be no miracle comebacks for Sweden, which pulled Soderstrom for the extra attacker with four minutes left. Wallmark thought he'd added his second of the night with 23 seconds left, but there was goaltender interference on the play.
As the Russians quest onward for the big prize, the Swedes must refocus on trying to at least get a medal of some shade for the fourth straight year.
"We have to win that game [bronze]," said Forsling. "Right now it sucks, but we have to wake up tomorrow and win. That's all we can do."