Russia wins with flair

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Russia’s flair for the dramatic has carried it to the gold-medal game at the world junior hockey championship.

Russia 4 Sweden 3

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Russia’s flair for the dramatic has carried it to the gold-medal game at the world junior hockey championship.

The Russians squandered a two-goal lead before scoring a late equalizer and surviving a shootout to beat Sweden 4-3 in a back-and-forth semifinal Monday that started slowly but ended brilliantly.

Denis Golubev slid a shot through Robin Lehner’s legs after Swedes Oscar Lindberg and Sebastian Wannstrom both failed to score.

The Russians then stormed the ice in celebration when Anton Lander’s attempt rang off the post.

Their berth in the gold-medal game against Canada, which beat the United States 4-1 later Monday, comes after Russia rallied Sunday for a 4-3 quarter-final win in overtime against Finland.

The Russians trailed 3-1 with less than four minutes remaining.

“We have a good locker-room, players respect each other and we have a friendly atmosphere,” Russian coach Valeri Bragin said through an interpreter.

“When we found our weaknesses during the season, we tried to improve them by bringing in character players, so you see it (Monday) and (Sunday) and that’s why we can equalize in the last minutes and manage to win.

“It’s all about the character of the team.”

Dmitri Shikin’s two saves in the shootout followed 45 stops in regulation before a half-full HSBC Arena devoid of any atmosphere or energy, despite small pockets of Swedish and Russian fans.

Vladimir Tarasenko, the dazzling St. Louis Blues first-rounder, Golubev and Sergei Kalinin, who tied the game 3-3 with 1:27 left, scored in regulation for the Russians, who last won gold at the tournament in 2003.

They won three silvers from 2005-07 but were sixth last year.

Adam Larsson, a top draft prospect this summer, Calle Jarnkrok, a Detroit Red Wings second-rounder, and Patrick Cehlin replied for the Swedes, who won bronze last year after silver medals the previous two tournaments. They will play the U.S. on Wednesday for bronze.

“We (played) our worst game when we needed it the most,” said Swedish coach Roger Ronnberg. “We played tight, we got caught in their trap system in the neutral zone over and over and didn’t get the regular flow in our game.

“It was a difficult game for us, I felt the guys weren’t that relaxed and hungry as they had been earlier in the tournament.”

Jarnkrok tied the game 2-2 just 1:20 into the third when he redirected a Jesper Fasth shot past Shikin and Cehlin appeared to score the winner at 16:41 when his blast from the point sailed past the netminder after Dmitri Orlov was called for a chincy slash.

But Kalinin replied at 18:33 when he picked up a loose puck during a scramble in front of the Swedish goal and slid it past Lehner, on loan from the American Hockey League’s Binghamton Senators, to set up overtime.

“It was good luck and God was with us,” said Tarasenko.

Sweden cruised into the semifinal as the Group B winner after four preliminary round victories, including a 6-5 shootout triumph over Canada. Russia, meanwhile, finished third in the group at 2-2 after dropping its first two games and needed the miracle rally to reach the semis.

Trailing Finland 3-1 with less than four minutes to play in the quarter-final, Washington Capitals first-rounder Yevgeni Kuznetsov scored one goal, assisted on the equalizer and then added the winner in extra time.

This one was just as dramatic.

“It was a very hard tough game, because we had just 18 hours (between contests),” said Tarasenko, who added the players didn’t get to sleep until 4 a.m. “We have a great team, good players, we have a really great relationship. I’m so happy because I play with these guys.”

A tentative, at times mind-numbing start to the game eased after Tarasenko opened the scoring when he banked a shot from behind the goal-line off Lehner’s arm and in. The Russians didn’t register their first shot of the game until 6:14, and Tarasenko’s clever volley was their third to that point.

The goal seemed to ease the bottleneck in the neutral zone, as both teams started attacking rather than standing around and forcing oncoming forwards to zig-zag their way to the opposing blue-line.

Golubev made it 2-0 for Russia 7:09 into the second period after another poor moment for Lehner. The netminder chose not to play a dump-in that slid by his crease in search of an icing call that never came. Stanislav Bocharov retrieved the puck behind the net, slid a centring pass to Golubev, who made a nifty forehand-backhand move before tucking the puck past Lehner.

“I would have played it, simple as that, because we had a Russian guy coming at it,” said a frustrated Lehner. “(The linesman) screamed ice and he put his arm up and I slid and then he called it off when it was over the line and then the Russian guy got it.”

Still, that only seemed to pick up the Swedes, who responded with some of their best shifts in the game, peppering the Russian goal.

Larsson broke through at 17:59 on a power play, when his blast from the top of the left circle eluded Shikin, cutting the Russian lead to 2-1 after 40 minutes.

“What happened last year? We don’t want to remember that game,” Tarasenko said of the sixth-place finish at last year’s tournament. “Our peak will be next game.”

Notes: Russian players warmed up for the contest by tossing a football around in between stretches in the bowels of HSBC Arena. A couple of Swedish players loosened up by playing some handball. … Sweden was again without Kitchener Rangers captain Gabriel Landeskog, who suffered a sprained left ankle earlier in the tournament. … The last Russian win over Sweden at the world juniors came in 2007, a 4-2 semifinal victory in Leksand. … Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, who led Canada to Olympic gold last year, took in the game from the press box.

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