Aesthetics aside, the U.S. rallied from 3-1 down in the third to send the game to overtime, then scored the only two goals of the shootout to defeat Canada in an outdoor classic.
Kieffer Bellows and Brady Tkachuk scored in the shootout while all three Canadians missed the target. The first Canadian shooter, Sam Steel, hit the post, but that was as close as they got.
Casey Mittlestadt followed up his sensational goal yesterday with three assists today and now leads all scorers with six points in three games.
The game was played before a record crowd for a World Junior Championship game, and fans were treated to another North American classic that included a magnificent snowstorm as the backdrop to events at New Era Field in Buffalo.
From the opening faceoff flurries danced in the sky as the Buffalo Bills football stadium turned into a winter wonderland of shinny pleasure. Fans streamed in by the hundreds as the first period unfolded, and by the midway point more than 44,000 had filled the large but intimate space.
It was anyone’s guess which team had the greater fan support. Thousands of fans waved American flags with mid-winter fervour, but for every flag there seemed to be a red or white Team Canada sweater. No matter. It all made for an electric atmosphere.
Power plays proved the most important part of the. Both teams had two each, and all came at timely moments for their team.
Canada emerged from the first period with a solid and deserved 2-0 lead thanks to the man advantage. Each team had two chances, but whereas the Americans were ineffectual, Canada struck both times.
In the first instance, Cale Makar rifled a shot past Jake Oettinger at 4:13 to stake Canada to an early lead. Then, late in the period, it was captain Dillon Dube, taking a sweet pass from Sam Steel and wiring a high shot past Oettinger before he could blink.
As the period came to an end, the intensity of the flurries picked up, and by intermission the snow was too thick on the ice for the Zambonis. The second period saw that wintry intensity continue, wreaking havoc on ice for crisp passes and tic-tac-toe playmaking but giving fans an amazing atmosphere to a game that exemplified why the sport became popular nearly 150 years ago.
After killing off an early penalty in the second, Canada played a solid and simple game and dominated much of the play. Tkachuk had one nice chance, but Hart was there with the pad save. That 2-0 lead looked rock solid for a long time.
But late in the period Canada incurred two penalties on the same play, and the U.S. struck with the ensuing two-man advantage. Keeping it simple, Bellows wound up for a shot, picked his spot, an fired a low bullet to the far side past Hart at 16:27, giving the U.S. some life.
Canada, however, was not intimidated and responded just 72 seconds later. After a good pressure shift, Jake Bean floated a shot through the snowstorm that was tipped by Boris Katchouk and fooled Oettinger, thus restoring Canada’s two-goal lead through 40 minutes.
But early in the third Maxime Comtois took a senseless boarding penalty behind the U.S. icing line, and the Americans capitalized. Scott Perunovich converted a nice feed form Casey Mittelstadt at 6:09 to make it a one-goal game again.
That got the Americans going, and even a lengthy timeout to scrape the ice couldn't slow them down. Just 34 seconds later, Mittelstadt fed Tkachuk in close and he snapped a quick shot past Hart to tie the score.
The overtime was more cautious than wide open, setting the stage for a shootout just as the snow abated.
Using old international rules, the referees has teams change ends halfway through the third period and again in the overtime. Interestingly, five of the six regulation goals were scored at the south end.
The win moves the Americans into second place in Group A with five points, two behind Canada.
"I can’t talk about myself personally," said Kostin. "I can just talk about my teammates, who made sure that I scored. I think their performance was 100 percent today."
German Rubtsov and Artur Kayumov notched a goal and an assist apiece, and Alexei Polodyan also scored for Russia. Artyom Manukyan and Andrei Svechnikov both chipped in two assists.
For Belarus, Sergei Pishuk led the way with a goal and an assist, and Dmitri Deryabin had the other goal.
Russian coach Valeri Bragin doesn't have as much talent to deploy as in recent years, but his team seems to be getting back on track after a surprising 5-4 loss to the Czechs and a 5-2 win over Switzerland that was harder than it needed to be.
"We play together as a fist," said Kostin of suiting up for Bragin. "His teams are always extremely close-knit, like a family, and I always enjoy playing for him."
Russia has medaled at every World Juniors since last winning the tournament in Buffalo in 2011 under Bragin. It took bronze last year.
The Russians often experience peaks and valleys during the preliminary round. They will get a better test of their mettle against the talented Swedes on New Year's Eve in a game that will likely decide first place in Group B.
Pointless Belarus is now virtually assured of winding up in the relegation round. Its group finale is on Saturday against the Czech Republic.
In goal, Vladislav Sukhachyov got the start again for Russia, having taken over in net ever since Alexei Melnichuk was pulled after the second period of the 5-4 opening loss to the Czech Republic. Andrei Grishenko got his third straight start in goal for Belarus,
Striving to not simply roll over for their “big brothers,” the Belarusians played gritty hockey from the outset. But Russia’s heavy pressure would pay off in a period where Belarus was outshot 15-3.
At 10:14, Polodyan’s wrister from the right side deflected past Grishenko to make it 1-0 with his second goal of the tournament.
Two and a half minutes later, Rubtsov finished off a nice give and go with Artyom Manukyan on the rush, dangling to the net and sliding home the 2-0 marker.
With about four minutes left in the opening frame, Belarus forward Ilya Litvinov was shaken up on a heavy hit by Russian defenceman Vladislav Syomin. However, he skated off under his own power and would return.
Three minutes into the second period, Belarus got a golden chance on a 2-on-1 rush, but Arseni Astashevich shot the puck high and wide.
Seconds later, Kostin played catch with Svechnikov deep in the Belarus zone before waltzing into the slot and beating Grishenko high to the stick side for a 3-0 lead. Although the Russians couldn't capitalize when Belarus took three straight minors, the penalties hampered the comeback hopes of coach Yuri Faikov's team.
In the third period, the Belarusians got some life when Deryabin flew down left wing and surprised Sukhachyov with a high glove-side goal at 2:03. However, Artur Kayumov, who got the winner against Switzerlsnd, restored Russia's three-goal edge at 4:21.
Kostin powered out of the corner and around the Belarus defence before lifting the 5-1 goal home at 8:12. It was his third of these World Juniors. At 10:43, Pishuk cut the deficit to 5-2, but that was as close as the underdogs would get.
Asked to rate his team's performance in this game, Kostin said: "Ninety-nine out of one hundred."
Belarus squandered a late opportunity with an extended power play -- including a 5-on-3 for 1:26 -- after Russia's Mikhail Maltsev took a high-sticking double-minor.
This was Russia’s seventh straight all-time win over Belarus, dating back to the 1999 World Juniors in Canada.
Of Belarus, Kostin said: "I think it’s a good team. We’re a little bit better as a team. But they have a lot of very good players with high potential. I think they’ll be OK in the future."