The Russians are coming … back.
A year after finishing a distant sixth in Saskatoon, the Russian juniors are guaranteed to take a record 29th World Junior Championship medal back to Moscow, as their 4-3 shootout victory over Sweden puts them into Wednesday's gold-medal game against Canada.
The two North American junior teams will meet here tonight to decide the other gold-medal contender, with at least a silver medal guaranteed to the two teams that reach the final. Today's two losers will meet earlier Wednesday to decide the bronze medal for third place.
It came down to a post, still ringing from the third, and final, Swedish shooter of the day, Anton Lander. When he failed to score on the shootout, the victory was Russia's, courtesy of an earlier shootout goal by Denis Golubev, who had scored earlier in the game, as well.
For the Russians, the victory was sweet, as they had reached the semi-final only because of a dramatic Sunday comeback against Finland, winning in overtime 4-3 after being down 3-1 at one point.
The dramatics again came late in this game, though there were so little early on that, at one point, the scoreboard showed an older fan snoring in the seats.
It seemed the Swedes had the game won in regular time when, very much in control of matters, forward Patrick Cehlin scored on a screen shot with just over three minutes left in the game to put Sweden ahead 3-2.
The Russians forced overtime, however, when with less than a minute-and-a-half to go Sergei Kalinin punched the puck under Swedish goaltender Robin Lehner's legs on a goalmouth scramble. It was not a great night for Ottawa Senators prospect Lehner.
The excitement of the third period and overtime was in stark contrast to the opening, as the Russians and the Swedes played table-top hockey: positional, predictable, at times paralyzing.
The Russians did not even manage a shot on goal until into the seventh minute, but this was a slap off the mask that seemed to stun rather than awaken Lehner.
Lehner seemed to lose the second shot sent his way and then goofed on the third, a Vladimir Tarasenko clip from virtually back of the net that went in off his skate for a 1-0 Russian lead.
Russian goaltender Dmitri Shikin, on the other hand, had been tested often by the Swedes, but rarely threatened until later in the period when he made successive saves off Johan Larsson, Jesper Fasth and Max Friberg - all three saves in the gasping category.
Lehner, to his credit, did at one point make a simply sensational glove save off highly-touted Tarasenko, the Russian captain.
The Russians went ahead 2-0 on a second-period botch by Lehner's defence when they foolishly ignored Golubev standing all alone in front of the Swedish net, who took a pass and calmly stickhandled around a falling Lehner to score.
Team Sweden finally scored late in the second period at the end of a power play when, on a broken play, the puck squirted back to defenceman Adam Larsson, who blasted a slapshot high to Shikin's stick side.
The Swedes tied the game at 2-2 early in the third when Calle Jarnkrok was able to get a puck past Shikin on the short side.
They went ahead on Cehlin's blast, only to have Kalinin send it into overtime on that mad scramble with the clock ticking down.
The Russians celebrated as if they had won the gold medal, not just the chance to play for it.
As Yevgeni Kuznetsov, the hero of Russia's Sunday comeback against the Finns had said, he and his teammates are "tired of coming back without winning anything and everybody criticizing us.
"I just want to win a medal."
That, now, is guaranteed.
Colour to be decided Wednesday.Report Typo/Error