On a team stocked with offensive stars, the real story of Team Russia at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship has been 17 year old goaltender Andrei Vasilievskiy. In an unbelievable goaltending duel against Czech star Petr Mrazek, the rising star came out on top and continued an amazing tournament that has yet to see him give up a soft goal despite often being peppered behind a sometimes porous defence. He's also been key in leading the Russians penalty kill, which killed off their 22nd straight penalty this tournament at the end of regulation and into overtime before the unlikely Russian hero Grigori Zheldakov blasted the game winning goal on a feed from Lightning prospect Nikita Kucherov at 1:30 of overtime to send Russia to the semifinals and a date with Canada tomorrow night.
This was a game that had a lot of what you want to see as a hockey fan: ten bell chances thwarted by great goaltenders, lots of free-flowing action, huge momentum shifts, tons of chances, tons of shots, overtime, missed calls, desperate shot-blocking, players battling through injuries to try and win. Russia dominated early, utilizing great stretch passes to create odd man rushes and being very aggressive in the offensive zone to create turnovers and get shots in from the point and slot areas. Then, the second period started and the Czechs made outstanding adjustments: the neutral zone was clogged, their defence joined the rush and their forwards made life hard on the Russians' true weakness, their lack of depth on defence. Playing hurt after suffering a probable concussion versus the Americans, David Musil was excellent in the final forty minutes, as was Daniel Krejci. After exchanging second period goals, the game became a matter of inches, missed opportunities and elite goaltending from both sides.
It was hockey in all its best glory. The referees let the play go, which wasn't exactly fair, as with such top notch goaltending a power play goal could've made a huge difference. In the final minute of the third, the Czechs finally got a man advantage after an offensive zone high-sticking penalty to Kucherov. They couldn't beat Vasilievskiy, who in the second half of the game became a bigger figure than Mrazek, who stole the show early.
Here are the highlights:
So, we have our rematch of last year's gold medal game in the semifinals. After the jump, we'll look at the other semifinal between Finland and Slovakia.
A classic this one wasn't. We had some nice plays, but some lousy goaltending and some undisciplined play led to this being a shootout. And not just undisciplined play, but questionable officiating as well. With Slovakia within two goals in the third period, leading scorer Matus Chovan got tossed for a boarding call which the Finnish defender Miro Aaltonen clearly turned into to draw the penalty. There was nothing Chovan could do, as he was finishing the check facing Aaltonen before the very late turn to face the boards. The penalty resulted in Finland going up by four goals mid-way through the third period and eliminated any chance of a late Slovakian comeback like they did against Switzerland. Chovan had a goal and an assist before being ejected, but the game will be best remembered for watching Mikael Granlund and his brother Markus Granlund light up Slovakia in the second period. Markus scored his first two goals of the tournament, both assisted from great plays by his more famous brother, and Mikael also scored Finland's third goal, starting a lead in which they wouldn't relinquish. Both brothers assisted on one of the 3rd period PP goals as well.
Both Juraj Simboch and Dominik Riecicky allowed soft goals and did not allow Slovakia to take advantage of a shaky Sami Aittokallio in the Finnish net, who was not happy after allowing five goals in the quarterfinal despite the win. Finland will need much stronger goaltending tomorrow against Sweden in the semifinal, which will be the first semifinal for Finland since 2006. Finland has not won a semifinal since 2001, but with the Granlund brothers finally clicking, a victory does not seem out of reach.