Russia's magnificent seven
Russia's magnificent seven
Defending champion steps up its game
It’s been a little while in arriving, but the Russian national team finally delivered a performance of true champion class to overpower an opponent that has been raising eyebrows in Ostrava.
Despite some flashes of the offensive power fans have come to expect from Russian rosters at IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships, the team had yet to produce a strong 60-minute show despite defeating Norway, Slovenia and Denmark in earlier group games.
But in a Victory Day showdown against Belarus that could potentially determine the winner of Group B, Russia produced an assured display that combined defensive steel with attacking finesse on the way to a 7-0 win against an opponent it had never beaten by more than two goals in previous games at this level.
A first period marker from Ilya Kovalchuk got things rolling and after Sergei Bobrovski saved a penalty shot from Artyom Demkov to preserve that lead Belarus ran out of ideas up front. The middle session saw goals from Vladimir Tarasenko, Vadim Shipachyov and Artemi Panarin put clear blue water between these Slavic neighbours long before the final hooter.
The third period saw Russia continue to pour forward and Yevgeni Malkin finally ended his personal goal drought after 18 blank games, making it 7-0 as Russia celebrated Victory Day in style.
The early stages offered a clue as to how both teams would approach the game. Belarus was putting in the hard yards on defence, ceding territory to Russia but locking down the ice in front of Kevin Lalande’s net to keep the opponent firmly on the outside. At the other end Belarus had chances on the counter attack, with Alexander Kulakov and Artur Gavrus both causing Sergei Bobrovski some anxiety, but there was little sustained pressure.Continue reading
Gradually, though, Russia began to piece together better opportunities. Yevgeni Medvedev shot into Lalande’s glove on the first odd-man rush of the game and Malkin got into the circle before dragging a shot wide as his wait for a goal continued.
The breakthrough came in the 10th minute thanks to Russia’s captain Ilya Kovalchuk. Nikolai Kulyomin squirted the puck down the right hand board, Kovalchuk beat a defender and, ignoring the option to pass to Artyom Anisimov in the slot, got to the face-off spot before firing low to Lalande’s glove side.
Kovi was not getting carried away after the game, reminding reporters that the tournament still has some way to run. "It's not been easy as captain of this team because we haven't always played as well as we should," he said. "One good game doesn't make a full season."
Belarus lost a great chance to tie it up in the 16th minute. Artyom Demkov was denied a shooting chance as Maxim Chudinov hooked him back. The Dynamo Minsk forward tried to go low beneath Bobrovski’s pad but was thwarted by the goalie’s outstretched leg.
"We were close in the first period but they broke the game in the second period and they never slowed down," said Belarus coach Dave Lewis.
There would be no second opportunity for Belarus once Vladimir Tarasenko stretched the lead soon after the intermission. His goal recalled Kovalchuk’s opener as he spun away from Oleg Yevenko on the boards and bore down on the net to fire across Lalande.
Then the deadly Panarin-Dadonov-Shipachyov line got in on the act. Belarusian coach Dave Lewis had already admitted he was unsure how to stop them, and after keeping them quiet for almost half the game, a power play got the power line on the board yet again. First it was Shipachyov, revelling in the space conceded on the PK, who smashed home Panarin’s pass to the far post. Then, three minutes later, the duo reversed roles as Shipachyov’s pass set up a vicious backhand from Panarin. Replacement goalie Igor Brikun’s first World Championship appearance lasted just 178 seconds before he was picking the puck out of his net.
"They've been good all year and it's fun to watch them," added Kovalchuk. "We have the best seats in the house watching them from the bench."
The final period offered little respite for Belarus as it slumped to its heaviest ever defeat in World Championship play against Russia. A penalty shot early on gave Sergei Shirokov the chance to show Belarus how it's done and the Avangard Omsk forward took full advantage with an accomplished finish. Then that power play kicked in once again as Dadonov made it six, waiting for Brikun and Yevenko to commit themselves before firing into an empty net.
Next came Malkin, with his first goal in 19 games. He sliced his way past two defenders to get to Birkun's doorstep and make it seven for Russia. With the outcome beyond any possible doubt, Russia rotated its goaltenders to give Anton Khudobin his first few minutes of game time in the tournament.
Defenceman Dmitri Kulikov summed up his team's success. "We won the game because we stuck our tasks and played as a team. Everyone did his job. To start with on defence we did everything we could to avoid giving up chances in our zone then the offence got rolling."
Russia now ties the USA on 12 points at the top of the group. Belarus, with 10, drops to third and could be overtaken by Finland after the afternoon game against Slovakia.
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