By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com
History was made. With an exciting 4-3 overtime victory on Wednesday, Russia broke Sweden’s all-time record preliminary-round winning streak at 54 games. The result moves the Russians (eight points) into first place in Group B for the time being.
Marat Khusnutdinov scored the winner on the power play with six seconds left in OT.
“There was great work before,” said Khusnutdinov. “Mikhail Abramov got us the power play [by drawing a penalty]. There was a great shot from Rodion Amirov and I scored on the second chance.”
Sweden (seven points) and the U.S. (six points) will still get to battle for first place, each seeking a regulation-time win in their New Year’s Eve group finale. The second-place team in Group B will face Germany, which finished third in Group A, in the quarter-finals.
Sweden last lost a preliminary-round game on 31 December 2006 in Leksand when the U.S.’s Jack Johnson scored the 3-2 overtime winner.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Swedish captain Philip Broberg. “We’re here to win gold. It doesn’t matter in group play. You’ve got to be the best when the stakes are the [highest]. So this is going to make us stronger and hopefully we’ll just get better for tomorrow and get ready.”
This was the most intense and dynamic hockey we’ve seen at the 2021 World Juniors, setting the stage for more thrills in Edmonton.
“It’s not an easy game, and it’s the type of hockey we expect to play moving forward,” said Russian head coach Igor Larionov, whose team scored three power play goals. “I like the boys responding really well after the loss to the Czech Republic. Tonight was good, despite some circumstances in the second period when we got a few minutes of shorthanded play against Team Sweden.”
Eleven of the last 12 games between these two elite nations have been decided by just one goal. Last year, Ivan Morozov scored twice, including the overtime winner, as Russia beat Sweden 5-4 to advance to the gold medal game against Canada. The Russians and Swedes settled for silver and bronze respectively.
Swedish coach Joel Ronnmark gave Jesper Wallstedt his first start in net over incumbent Hugo Alnefelt. Wallstedt, 18, has a 2.06 GAA and 92.0 save percentage with the SHL’s Lulea HF this season. Yaroslav Askarov, who was pulled in last year’s semi-final, returned between the pipes for Russia after Artur Akhtyamov played in the 7-1 win over Austria.
“The game felt pretty good,” said Wallstedt, who found out he would play after Sweden’s practice on Tuesday. “You know, it’s tough being here. I haven’t played a game in a couple of weeks. But I felt all right. Very sad that we couldn’t get out with a win.”
Shots on goal favored Sweden 36-35.
Broberg returned to the lineup after a one-game absence due to injury. Meanwhile, Larionov’s team went without Yegor Chinakhov, who was injured when hauled down on a break against Austria. Chinakhov was awarded a penalty shot on the play, but it was Rodion Amirov who took it and opened the scoring. (Larionov said afterwards that Chinakhov is expected to skate on New Year’s Day and his quarter-final status will be reevaluated.)
The Russians came out blazing and thought they’d opened the scoring again just 37 seconds in. Captain Vasili Podkolzin bulled his way to the net with the puck, with Broberg right on top of him, and Amirov shoveled the rebound in. The play was video-reviewed, and as per the original call on the ice, it was ruled that Podkolzin’s stick had interfered with Wallstedt. No goal.
At 7:28, it was 1-0 Russia for real. Larionov’s troops hounded the Swedish defence on the forecheck and turned the puck over. Mikhail Abramov rounded the net and slid a sneaky cross-crease pass to Yegor Afanasiev, who buried it past Wallstedt’s right skate.
“I thought Russia started the game really intense, and we grew into it,” said Ronnmark. “It was a hard-fought game, something to build on for the upcoming games.”
Sweden gained momentum, and Arvid Costmar tied it up at 14:33 with his second goal of the tournament. Noel Gunler flipped the puck past three Russian defenders to Costmar, unmolested in front of Askarov. The Linkoping HC product whacked a backhander through the goalie’s legs.
With just 46 seconds left in the opening frame, Amirov and Podkolzin got some revenge on the power play for their earlier disallowed goal. From the goal-line, Podkolzin made a heads-up pass to a wide-open Amirov, who whipped the puck off Wallsted’s paddle into the gaping cage. Flamboyantly, Amirov pointed to the net like a referee after scoring.
Things got rougher early in the second period. Russian defender Yan Kuznetsov got away with a stick jab on star Swedish forward Alexander Holtz. Sweden’s Elmer Soderblom inadvertently whacked a crouching Semyon Chistyakov in the mouth with the follow-through from his shot attempt.
The Juniorkronorna dictated the tempo and outshot Russia 17-7 in the second period. That said, the Russians still got quality chances, like when Maxim Groshev got in the clear and put a high backhander off Wallstedt’s left shoulder.
Sweden pressed hard during a mid-game man advantage with Holtz and fellow “Terror Twin” Lucas Raymond firing away, but Holtz could only ring one off the post. The Russians took four straight second-period minors and were lucky to escape without giving up a power-play goal.
“Obviously, we want to score a couple more goals there,” said Ronnmark. “I think we’re creating a lot. We can execute on our chances a bit better, hopefully, tomorrow, and in the games coming up after that.”
Holtz’s persistence finally paid off, as he got the 2-2 equalizer at even strength at 15:59. With a wide-open net, the 2020 New Jersey Devils first-round pick (seventh overall) put a bouncing puck off the side of the cage, but then retrieved the puck below the goal line and fired it in off Askarov for his first goal of these World Juniors.
In the third period, Broberg appeared to strain himself and skated off gingerly after a spectacular solo jaunt where he failed to tuck the puck past Askarov’s outstretched left skate. The Swedish captain declined comment when asked about his health afterwards.
Holtz went off for hooking and Kirill Kirsanov made it 3-2 with the power play (Russia’s first since the opening period) at 9:46. From the left faceoff circle, the World Junior rookie from SKA St. Petersburg unleashed a wicked wrister that dinged in off Wallstedt’s left post, high to the glove side.
Costmar had a great chance to tie it with under three minutes when he whizzed a shot off Askarov’s cross bar. With Wallstedt pulled for the extra attacker, Ronnmark called his timeout after Russia iced the puck at 18:28.
It paid off. The Swedes controlled the puck and Holtz’s one-timer ricocheted in off Noel Gunler’s shin pad with just one minute remaining in regulation. Gunler now has four goals.
However, to cap off a wild overtime, Khusnutdinov would break Swedish hearts when he converted an OT rebound with Costmar in the penalty box for holding.
Of the streak’s demise, Ronnmark said: “I know you guys [the media] have asked about it. We haven’t focused at all on that. We lost this game. Obviously, we always want to win when we go into a game. That’s the goal. We have some good stuff from this game. Tonight we lost. It is what it is.”
According to statistics compiled by TSN, the now-defunct Swedish streak included preliminary-round wins over Switzerland (8), the Czech Republic (8), Russia (7), Finland (7), Slovakia (5), Denmark (4), Canada (3), Latvia (3), Norway (2), the U.S. (2), Austria (2), Kazakhstan (2), and Belarus (1).