Bear bites eagle

MONTREAL, CANADA - JANUARY 2: Russia's Ivan Barbashyov #22 celebrates after scoring Team Russia's first goal of the game during quarterfinal round action at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images)

U.S. ousted by Russia for second straight year

With a 3-2 quarter-final win over the U.S., the Russians advanced to a semi-final clash with the winner of Sweden-Finland. Sin bin time was a big story.

The U.S. took a raft of untimely penalties, racking up 16 PIM in total. That proved fatal against the highly skilled Russians, who capitalized twice with the man advantage.

"If you have to kill off that many penalties in a row you spend a lot of energy," said U.S. head coach Mark Osiecki. "That caught up to us. We were very disciplined before and for some reason it didn’t work out today."

The Russians were no angels themselves, taking 12 PIM here. And they had played a rather pedestrian tournament to this point. But as is their wont, they tried to crank it up in a must-win situation, and it worked. It was the second consecutive year they've eliminated the U.S. in the quarter-finals.

"Before the game everyone said we are underdogs," said Russian coach Valeri Bragin. "I agree with that because the American team has a lot of skilled players and is well organized, but we capitalized on our chances in the beginning of the game, and we had solid goaltending. Our team showed real team spirit."

Ivan Barbashyov, Alexander Sharov, and Sergei Tolchinski scored for Russia. Anthony DeAngelo and Zach Werenski replied for the United States.

"This win means a lot for us," said Barbashyov. "The whole of Russia was watching this game."

This is not a Russian squad loaded with future superstars in the mode of Alexander Ovechkin, Yevgeni Malkin, or Vladimir Tarasenko. But under Bragin, who also led Russia to gold in 2011, they’re now in a position to potentially medal for the fifth straight year.

The U.S. toured the dressing room of the Montreal Canadiens yesterday, but unfortunately, the winning tradition of the NHL’s most storied franchise apparently did not rub off on them. It was the fourth consecutive win for Russia over the U.S., which hasn’t beaten the Russians at the World Juniors since December 29, 2007.

The Americans, whom many predicted would face Canada in the final this year, will go home without a World Junior medal for the second straight year. Their last medal was gold in Ufa, Russia (2013).

"It’s tough to swallow," said DeAngelo. "We thought we were just as good as their team in this tournament. I still do, but we’re not going to have a chance to show it. It is what it is now."

This result also ends the talk of another showdown between American captain Jack Eichel and Canada’s Connor McDavid, the two top-ranked candidates for the #1 overall selection in the 2015 NHL Draft.

"It’s definitely disappointing," Eichel said. "We’ve been harping since Day One on staying disciplined. We took too many penalties. Maybe some questionable calls here and there. But we didn’t capitalize on our power play or the 5-on-3 in the third period. That was the difference there."

Goalie Igor Shestyorkin, who entered this game with a 94.8 save percentage and 1.50 GAA, won the head-to-head duel with U.S. starter Thatcher Demko, whose numbers coming in were slightly superior. The U.S. outshot Russia 41-25.

"He’s a great goalie," Tolchinski said of Shestyorkin. "He saved us. He’s a great guy and a big part of our team. Thanks a lot to him."

In last year’s 5-3 quarter-final victory, the Russians killed the Americans with 5-on-3 power play opportunities, and what happened early on here was hauntingly similar.

After Tyler Motte went off for hooking and Ryan Collins took an unnecessary high-sticking penalty on Tolchinski, the Russians went to work. It took just 37 seconds for them to capitalize at 2:31, as Barbashyov charged to the net and shoveled home a rebound to make it 1-0.

With 4:35 left in the first, it was 2-0 Russia just after another Russian power play expired. On the rush, Maxim Mamin attempted a cross-ice pass that bounced off blueliner Brandon Carlo’s skate, squirting out in front for Sharov to backhand home.

Dylan Larkin was the most dangerous U.S. forward in the first period, but couldn’t add to his team-leading scoring totals. He had some bad luck when he tried to go to the front of the net, leaping over a sprawling Russian defender but knocking over Shestyorkin and taking an interference penalty.

The second period was a sin bin parade for both teams. The Americans got a two-man advantage and finally got on the board at 12:43. DeAngelo loaded up a slapper from the centre point and it beat Shestyorkin high to the stick side with John Hayden providing the screen in front.

Eichel came close to getting the equalizer on a splashy solo rush, but couldn’t finish it off.

The U.S. took another untimely penalty to start the third, with Sonny Milano tripping up Pavel Buchnevich in the neutral zone, and the Russians promptly made them pay.

Tolchinski tallied his third goal of the tournament. He unleashed a shot that tipped off Larkin's stick and flew past Carlo, fooling Demko for a 3-1 lead at 1:27.

"I think it just came down to us taking too many penalties," said Demko.

A subsequent American two-man advantage for more than a minute was squandered. But the U.S. didn't give up, peppering the Russian netminder. Werenski cut the deficit to 3-2 at 8:56 when he floated a long wrister past Shestyorkin's blocker.

Calling a time-out with 31 seconds left, Demko yanked for the extra attacker, and a faceoff in the Russian end, the U.S. made its final push. But it was to no avail.

There were few cheers for the Americans, while sporadic chants of “Shaibu!” or “Rossiya!” echoed at the Bell Centre.

The result perpetuates a pattern of U.S. underachievement every three years at World Junior tournaments held in Canada.

In both Halifax 2003 and Vancouver 2006, the Americans lost to Finland in the bronze medal game. In Ottawa 2009, a strong U.S. squad with Tyler Johnson and James van Riemsdyk was eliminated by underdog Slovakia in the quarter-finals. And in Edmonton and Calgary 2012, the Americans wound up in the relegation round for the first time since 1999.

Suffice it to say that this is not the kind of consistency that USA Hockey is striving for.

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