With the quarterfinals now played out, the semi-final matchups are clear, and as expected both games will feature strong traditional rivalries.
On one side, the Canadians will battle an old foe, a Russian team boasting tremendous talent at all positions. It will be a repeat of last year’s gold medal match, and should be well worth the price of admission. On the other side, Nordic neighbors Sweden and Finland will fight for the right to advance. The winners of these two contests will meet for gold; the losers for bronze.
Russia 2, Czech Republic 1 (OT)
When people talk about enjoying a low-scoring game, this is exactly the kind of game they have in mind.
The Russians and the Czechs combined to fire 84 shots, but the goaltenders matched each other save for save. Petr Mrazek, who had already proven his worth against the Americans, made highlight reel save after save, stretching himself across the crease to take away an empty net, putting a little flourish after making a brilliant catch and helping the Czechs to withstand a first period onslaught from the Russian side, during which the Czechs were outshot 16-to-5.
At the other end, 2012 Draft-eligible Andrei Vasilevski was not to be outdone. He matched Mrazek save for save, and when the Czechs put the boots to Russia in the second period it was Vasilevski who saved the day.
Ultimately, there could be only one winner, and in overtime Czech defenseman Daniel Krejci dropped to the ice after being high-sticked (although the video is hardly conclusive that the stick actually made contact with Krejci’s face) and stayed down; Russian shooter Grigori Zheldakov took advantage of the missing defenseman and blew the puck past Mrazek.
While Mrazek and Krejci alike both pointed to the missed call after the game, assistant coach Jiri Fischer had a very different view. “Those are just excuses,” he said.
Finland 8, Slovakia 5
The mirror image of the Russia/Czech Republic game in that while the goaltending was superb in the former, it was atrocious in this contest. Sami Aittokallio, who had performed well in every game up until this one (he had the best save percentage in the tournament) was so steamed after the win that he went directly to his own room rather than join with his teammates in celebration.
Most of the Finns’ damage was done in a six-minute span in the second period, where the brothers Granlund partnered for three goals and Aleksander Barkov scored a fourth. Altogether, the Granlunds finished the night with a combined seven points, while Mikael went 17-for-24 on faceoffs. In keeping with IIHF tradition where the player of the game award has minimal connection to the actual best player of the game, Joel Armia was recognized for Finland.
Switzerland 4, Denmark 3 (OT)
Go Denmark! The Danes, having been trodden upon by every one of their competitors in the ‘B’ pool, seem to be liking the relegation round – for the first time this tournament, the score was kept to within one, the shot clock wasn’t grossly one-sided, and with 60 minutes gone the Danes hadn’t lost the game.
Nicklas Jensen scored two goals, and the five players scratched in Denmark’s previous game returned to the lineup, but Tanner Richard ended the evening a little over two minutes into overtime.
Around The Rink
- Canadian head coach Don Hay, as well as assistant coach Scott Walker, both missed practice with the flu. They’re both expected back for tomorrow’s game.
- Grigori Zheldakov, who scored the winner in Russia’s quarter-final contest, was asked whether it would be difficult to muster up emotion to play against the Canadians in the semi-finals after two straight overtime games. “I have a different opinion,” he said through a translator, “those close games will help to bring our team closer together, to improve our game. I hope it will help us to go against Canada, that we will fight for every centimeter of ice. I think it will help us tomorrow.”
- Valeri Bragin, Russia’s head coach, didn’t offer much when interviewed after the game. He refused to bite on a question of whether Russia had the edge in net, acknowledged that the Canadians would be hungry after losing in the finals the year prior, and generally played it safe and savvy with the assembled media. One interesting point he made – he felt the game Canada played against the United States wasn’t a true test of the club, because there was “not much hitting, no emotion.” Presumably, he hopes to take them to the limit in the semi-finals.