Monday, December 28, 2015

Russia roars back on Finns

With three power play goals and a shorthanded marker, the Russians backed up their reputation as international hockey’s most opportunistic bunch in this wild affair between the two Group B favourites.

Kirill Kaprizov had a goal and an assist, and Andrei Svetlakov, Pavel Kraskovski, Vladislav Kamenev, and Alexander Polunin also scored for Russia. Yegor Korshkov had three assists, and Maxim Lazarev and Ivan Provorov added two assists apiece.

This was the first big test for Finnish coach Jukka Jalonen’s highly touted crew after thrashing Belarus 6-0. While their offensive confidence was undeniable, the final score showed their defensive discipline still has a ways to go.

In an intriguing choice by Russian coach Valeri Bragin, goalie Alexander Georgiev, who plays for TPS Turku, earned his second straight win. Ilya Samsonov, the Metallurg Magnitogorsk netminder drafted in the first round (25th overall) by the Washington Capitals this year, still has not seen a minute of action.

Making his second straight start, Finnish goalie Veini Vehvilainen took the loss as Finland outshot Russia 32-25.

Aleksi Saarela scored twice, Patrik Laine had a goal and an assist, and Sebastian Aho also tallied for Finland. Finnish scoring leader Jesse Puljujarvi added three helpers.

The Finns opened the scoring at 4:13 on an exciting rush. Laine rushed down left wing and fed Puljujarvi in the middle. Georgiev stopped his shot, but the rebound bounced out to Aho, who lifted it into the open side.

With deadly efficiency, Russia struck back less than two minutes later on the power play. With Miro Keskitalo off for tripping, Kaprizov’s lightning one-timer from the right faceoff circle beat Vehvilainen.

Twice Finland came close to retaking the lead in goalmouth scrums, but not close enough. With about two minutes left in the opening stanza, Juho Lammikko pushed the puck past Georgiev’s skate on the left post, but the whistle had already blown. The crowd of 12,526 was irate.

At 18:53 Laine put Finland up 2-1, getting his stick on Puljujarvi’s wrister and directing it down past Georgiev on the glove side.

The Finns took a 3-1 lead on the power play just 53 seconds into the middle frame. Puljujarvi did his best Wayne Gretzky impression, centering the puck from behind the goal line to Aleksi Saarela, who evaded the checking of two Russian defenders to zip it home.

It looked like the host nation was in full command, but appearances can be deceiving. Especially against a team like Russia.

At 8:48, the Russians cut the deficit to 3-2, exploiting their quick transition game on a 2-on-1 shorthanded break. Korshkov hustled down left wing and fed it across to Svetlakov. He waited as the Finnish goalie slid over on his knees and then roofed it glove side.

At 12:29, Kraskovski made it 3-3 on a lucky power play goal, pivoting down low to bounce the puck off Keskitalo and past a surprised Vehvilainen. Kraskovski, aghast with glee at his good fortune, jumped into the glass behind the net to celebrate.

Russia jumped into a 4-3 lead with the man advantage at 15:28. Kaprizov skated behind the Finnish net with the puck and fed it deftly to Kamenev. The Russian captain scored high on the short side, similar to Svetlakov.

Just 37 seconds later, it was 5-3 when Korshkov attempted a wraparound and the puck sat free between Vehlivainen's skate and the right post. Polunin dived in to push it home. Shock and disbelief reigned among the blue-and-white faithful.

Early in the third period, the Finns fought back. For the third time this night, they battled in close to shove the puck past Georgiev. The play was reviewed at length by the officials, as the crowd clapped and banged its noisemakers. Saarela was ultimately awarded the goal to make it 5-4 at 1:18, and the arena erupted.

However, that was as close as the Finns would get. Fazleyev added some insurance, scoring on his own rebound with 6:12 left to play. Jalonen pulled his goalie for the extra attacker in the dying stages, but it was to no avail.

Finland last won this tournament in 2014, defeating host Sweden 3-2 in overtime in the gold medal game in Malmo. They failed to medal in the 2015 tournament, while the Russians settled for silver after falling 5-4 to Canada in the final in Montreal.

The Russians will face winless Belarus on Tuesday, while Finland's next game is Wednesday against Slovakia.

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