Russia 2, United States 1
New York (The Draft Analyst) – Yegor Korshkov had two points, including the go-ahead goal late in the second period as Russia advanced to the finals of the world junior hockey championship with a 2-1 victory over the Unites States on Monday.
Russia, which needed a late rally and overtime on Saturday to beat lowly Denmark, meets host Finland on Tuesday to try and win its first gold medal at the tournament since 2011. Russia (5-1) is guaranteed of at least a silver medal, making it six straight years it finished as one of the top three teams. The Finns beat Sweden 2-1 earlier in the day in the other semifinal.
Ilya Samsonov stopped 26 shots in beating the Americans (4-2). The Washington Capitals prospect was a surprise starter over Alexander Georgiev, who started in goal in four of Russia’s previous five wins.
The Russians (6-0) controlled play for most of the game but trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes. Christian Dvorak, a draft pick of the Arizona Coyotes, opened the scoring at 9:03 of the second period when he banged home a centering feed from Sonny Milano.
The Americans sat on their lead and had to kill several penalties, including a two-minute 5-on-3 power play where Russia forced goalie Alex Nedeljkovic to make a handful of spectacular saves. The Russians kept attacking, however, and broke through with 4:52 remaining in the second. Korshkov and Pavel Kraskovski battled for a loose puck at the edge of the crease until Kraskovski poked it past Nedeljkovic.
Korshkov broke the 1-1 tie less than three minutes later after he spun away from defenseman Zach Werenski and stuffed the puck between the near post and Nedeljkovic’s left skate. The Russians took a lead into the third period and held their ground, keeping the Americans to the outside and allowing Samsonov to see shots cleanly as they came.
Nedeljkovic, who allowed two goals or fewer in each of his five starts, made 31 saves in defeat. The Russians outshot the Americans 33-27. Auston Matthews, the star prospect who many expect to be the first overall pick in the NHL draft, was held off the scoresheet but can tie an American single-tournament record if he scores his eighth goal in Tuesday’s bronze medal game against Sweden.
C YEGOR KORSHKOV (2016 Draft eligible/1996): Korshkov has sure had one heck of a tournament, even if the Russians were a cat whisker away from losing to Denmark in the quarterfinals. He’s been one of their best decision-making forwards from the onset, and his spin-o-rama and subsequent bull rush to the cage for the go-ahead goal speak volumes about his hockey sense. These weren’t your grandaddy’s Russians – they beat you by grinding you down and sweeping you aside. Korshkov may be a double-overage prospect who is very comfortable playing in the KHL, but he’s mature in body and mind, and that should count for something this offseason.
G ILYA SAMSONOV (Washinton 1st/2015): Samsonov was not expected to start aginas the Americians, especially after Alewxander Georgiev had played very well up until the Denmark nail biter. Samsonov may have looked erratic and out of sorts in an easy win over Belarus. But he’s done well in the past against the United States, including a 49-save performance in a 3-1 win last April at the U18’s. His right pad save in the final minute kept the game from going to overtime. He was on point today in a game with far more significance. For starters, He avoided venturing far from his net and fixating on pucks to his rear. His rebound control was excellent as well.
LW KIRILL KAPRIZOV (Minnesota 5th/2015): Whirling winger with a game-high nine shots on goal. It means something when an you get picked to represent your country, and Kaprizov has been sturdy all tournament long without the stats to validate how integral a piece he’s been. He’s one of coach Valeri Bragin’s more reliable puck carriers into the offensove zone, and even drew a penalty. He’s developed a bit of a repuation in the KHL for late-game heroics, so keep an eye on him in the final against Finland if the game is tied or close to it.
G ALEX NEDELJKOVIC (Carolina 2nd/2014): There are several positives for the Americans to take away from Helsinki, but Nedeljkovc’s play has to be on the top of the list. His performance against the Canadians in the opener set the tone for what turned out to be an outstanding Christmas break – Nedeljkovic allowed two goals or less in each of his five starts, posting a .949 save percentage. He even channeled Dominik Hasek with a sprawling right-pad kick with a yawning net to his rear. He made one mistake – a big one – on the Korshkov goal as he had the option to either poke check or remain tight to the left post rather than cheat towards the middle. Regardless, we’ve already discussed how technically superior he generally is, and a pre-WJC trade from Flint (OHL) to Niagara has already paid dividends.
LHD ZACH WERENSKI (Columbus 1st/2015): Werenski picked a dandy of a time to have his worst game of the tournament, as he reverted to the kind of defensive zone play which made last year’s WJC opponents attack towards his direction. The Russians are clever, knowing full well how to exploit a weakness in the enemy’s battle plan. Werenski made some goofy plays with the puck, and the way he handled both goals against is worthy of a lengthy session in the video room. The good news? He was otherwise phenomenal as Team USA’s blueline gunslinger, and at times we felt he was even better in his own end than defensive-minded partner Brandon Carlo. Is he ready for the pro game? We think he’ll be better off waiting at least another season. He picked up another assist, giving him eight points in five games.
RHD CHARLIE MCAVOY (2016 Draft eligible/1997): McAvoy was thrust into a familiar situation, albeit on the biggest stage of his young career. We think the Boston University rearguard handled the pressure of his first WJC extremely well, and was counted on for some big minutes in crunch time. You may not have seen it often in Helsinki, but there’s an explosive element to McAvoy’s game, and the Russians have bene shutting down those types (not named Puljujarvi, Aho or Laine) all tournament long. We’re expecting McAvoy’s game to take off once he’s back in Beantown, as the Terriers like to play a run and gun game without the threat of the Russian defensive machine getting in its way. We give both McAvoy and former NTDP teammate LHD CHAD KRYS high marks for handling the crown jewel of pre-draft tournaments with aplomb