Russia and the United States put their complete team games on display in the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championship’s opening games, each looking like a gold-medal contender ahead of the semifinals. But drawing each other on the penultimate day of the tournament, only was was going to get into Saturday’s final for a chance to claim that prize.
The game featured some of the tournament’s top scorers, including Ryan Poehling right at the top of the list with eight points, followed by American teammate Jason Robertson with seven. Russian defenceman Alexander Romanov and forward Grigori Denisenko topped their team’s race with seven.
Romanov was looking to move into a tie for that title on his first shift of the semifinal, leading a rush up ice with the top line. With the defender low in the zone and out of his regular position at the blue line, the US took the opportunity to get a chance the other way, but Romanov got back to break it up with his stick.
It was one of the few opportunities the US had in the game’s opening minutes as Russia was in control of the puck and getting several shots on goal.
The US was relying on stretch passes, and with Romanov opting for a more offensive approach, his side of the ice was the one targeted for such passes, forcing the Canadiens prospect to scramble back into position on three occasions in the opening 20 minutes.
With the puck once again in the offensive zone, it made its way to the point, where Dmitri Samorukov sent a perfect slap-pass off the skate of Nikita Shashkov at the side of the net. However, after the play was reviewed, and it was determined that Shashkov had wittingly directed the puck into the net, and the goal was disallowed.
Off a neutral-zone turnover, the USA finally found some offence. Logan Cockerill took the puck down to the goal line as the Russians scrambled to get back in position. The confusion allowed Oliver Wahlstrom to hit the net for the 1-0 lead.
Oliver Wahlstrom opens the scoring for the USA. pic.twitter.com/KbDdIIm9Iq— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) January 4, 2019
With the Russians getting a power play with 30 seconds to go, Vitali Kravtsov got the puck at the side of net, letting his shot go a few tenths of a second after the horn. Dylan Samberg took exception to the late shot, and cross-checked Kravtsov high for what would have forced a 5-on-3 to start the second. Grigori Denisenko decided to get some revenge for the hit, knocking Samberg down and wiping out the two-man advantage.
Russia had several good looks in their 90 seconds of power-play time in the second period, but Cayden Primeau stopped all of the shots he faced, calmly directing pucks to the boards to prevent second-chance opportunities.
With the penalty killed, the United States was able to get into the Russian zone, and Poehling drew a tripping call to put his team up a man for the first time.
It didn’t take long for the man advantage to capitalize. Some good movement had the puck relaying around the offensive zone, eventually getting right to the slot where Sasha Chmelevski simply had to knock the puck between the legs of Pyotr Kochetkov for a 2-0 lead.
Sasha Chmelevski doubles the lead for the USA. 2-0. pic.twitter.com/B1hNvvJC79— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) January 4, 2019
Another penalty to Russia, this time for too many men on the ice, didn’t result in a goal, but did prevent the team from being able to make a quick response to the second goal.
They were able to find one a few minutes later. Denisenko carried the puck with speed into the offensive zone, right down to the side of the net. At the last possible second he took his shot, beating Primeau with an accurate shot over the goaltender’s shoulder.
Hang them high with Denisenko, who scores to get Russia on the boards. pic.twitter.com/E1aDQwjstf— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) January 4, 2019
As had been the theme for most of the day, the Russians had the majority of possession at even strength, with a few more great chances in the second period. They were at least able to draw a penalty on one of the final shifts, meaning they’d begin a period on the power play once again.
They came very close to tying the game a minute into the third. A shot from Klim Kostin hit Primeau but worked its way between his arm and body, trickling slowly over the goal line. But the quick stick of US defenceman Phil Kemp cleared it off the post and out of danger. The Russians had a few more great cross-crease setups, but quick lateral slides from Primeau shut them all down.
After being frustrated on those chances, the Russians spent the next few minutes without a whole lot of urgency in their game, as the puck was largely played either in the neutral zone or cycled around the Russian end. The US could get credit for running time off the clock with a one-goal lead. but they’d have to be prepared for a late push from the opposition.
The duo of Poehling and Wahlstrom just about made it a commanding two-goal lead midway through the final period of regulation. Wahlstrom’s shot spilled into the crease, but working against a Russian defender, Poehling was just unable to get his stick on the bouncing puck with the net open.
The Russian push finally came with about six minutes remaining, aided by some good work from Romanov at the blue line to keep the puck around the US net. It turned out that was the best series of chances they’d get in the period, as the Russians were unable to get their best players on the ice and their netminder off of it in the dying minutes.
With the 2-1 win the United States moves on to the Gold Medal Game tomorrow night. Russia will have to settle for a chance at bronze in the earlier game on Saturday.