Heated rivals met in the last quarter-final of the 2018 World Juniors; a place where the Americans had never beaten the Russians before. Last year, Troy Terry played hero in the semifinals to send the United States into the Gold Medal Game when the two teams met.
The United States came into the elimination rounds riding high after a last gasp victory over a tough Finnish side, while the Russians limped in after a defeat at the hands of a Team Sweden favoured by many to win gold. Team USA slipped up just once in the round robin section, dropping a 3-2 decision to Slovakia in a shocker, while the Russians also lost on opening day to the Czech Republic.
Joseph Woll got the start once more for the Americans, despite a shaky tournament thus far. Opposite him was Vladislav Sukhachyov for Russia.
From the opening puck drop, it became the Casey Mittelstadt show once again. The Sabres prospect danced and dangled his way through the Russian defence, drawing a penalty less than minute into the game. The United States then immediately went to work, weaving passes around the Russian defence until Kieffer Bellows cashed in on a perfect pass from Brady Tkachuk.
Kieffer Bellows puts USA up 1-0 early vs Russia pic.twitter.com/hNjs6YCmGB— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) January 3, 2018
The American attack did not relent. With eight minutes gone, the US owned a 7-1 shot advantage, and the Russian offence had barely managed to mark the ice in front of Woll.
A Klim Kostin penalty would send the United States back to the power play as he high-sticked Patrick Harper directly in the face. But instead of seeing their deficit double, the Russians charged down the ice and tied the game.
A harmless backhand from Marsel Sholokhov found its way past Woll, off the camera and out of the net for Russia. From there the Russians found their skating legs, testing Woll several times in high-danger areas, but the Maple Leafs prospect held his own, flashing the glove on both saves.
In a see-saw battle the momentum swung right back to the American side of the ice, with Kailer Yamamoto finding twine for the second US goal. While being hooked down to the ice, Yamamoto smacked a puck down to the ice, spun and ripped a shot into the back of the net putting his team up 2-1.
Kailer Yamamoto reclaims the lead for USA with a great effort pic.twitter.com/yuKK09IZzq— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) January 3, 2018
In retaliation for a shove in front of the net, Bellows took a slashing call to send the US to the penalty kill, which the Americans successfully handled. Then as the parade to the penalty box parade continued, Vladislav Syomin hit Max Jones in the head, earning himself a game misconduct and forcing five minute penalty kill upon his team.
Russia managed to go unscathed while dealing with the major to end the first period, killing off the first minutes of the major penalty without much struggle, even managing a few short-handed breaks to put pressure back on the US.
Unfortunately for the Americans, their power play could not cash in. Their best look went by the wayside when Adam Fox fanned on a shot in the slot, sending the Russians the other way on an odd-man break. Not long after that, Vitali Abramov had a golden chance to tie the game up, but Woll, in what was likely the save of the tournament stretched his leg across to deny the Russian forward.
Great pad save by Joe Woll to preserve the USA lead pic.twitter.com/gOgTnWsKFn— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) January 3, 2018
The US had a big opportunity to add to their small lead when Harper got the puck on a cross-crease feed, and instead of burying it, the Predators prospect air-mailed it off the glass behind the net.
The Americans got another major gift when Russia had one too many skaters on the ice, sending the United States back to the power play.
Once more the Americans had their looks on net, but couldn’t solve Sukhachyov, and after returning to even strength, took a penalty of their own.
After a solid kill, and a return to even strength, a questionable call on Scott Perunovich sent the United States back to the penalty kill once more. On that power play, German Rubtsov had a loose puck right in front of him following a Woll save, and sent the shot over the yawning cage, and then the US promptly cleared it from their zone, keeping their lead intact as the horn sounded to end the second period.
A short power play to start the final frame was dispatched by the Americans, but the Russian pressure was still dialed up to 11 as they looked for an equalizing goal. Dylan Samberg had a massive shot block to deny a prime scoring chance.
The Russians then broke through with Andrei Altybarmakyan getting the tying goal on an incredible solo effort. He broke in down the wing, around Fox, around Woll, and then buried the puck into the open net.
With the pressure still mounting, Samberg held up a Russian forward behind the US net, giving Russia the upper hand for the first time in the game with a third-period power play. An impotent Russian man advantage struggled to even gain the American zone, and if it was on long dump-ins around the boards when they did, allowing the United States to easily clear their end and change their lines.
The Americans took the lead late in the period, with Bellows making his presence felt once more. He got in deep and from the faceoff dot uncorked a bullet of a shot, and destroyed a defenceless water bottle in the process to restore the American lead.
The Russians weren’t content to let the lead stand. With one goal to his name already, Sholokhov rang a heavy shot off the post behind Woll, but in a twisted game of inches couldn’t get the bounce in his favour.
With their netminder on the bench, the Russians mounted their final push with 1:38 left on the clock, but it was a final play down the ice with Ryan Poehling setting up Joey Anderson for the empty-netter that sealed the 4-2 win to get Team USA ino the semis.
Russia’s seven-year medal streak was brought to an end with the loss. The Americans get one step closer to defending their gold, with their next matchup being versus a tough team from Sweden in Thursday’s first semifinal.