Russia handed the young stars their first loss, thanks to a flurry of second-period goals, and playing smarter.
Team Russia came, they learned, they held on.
In an incredibly entertaining game, Russia beat North America 4-3, handing the young stars their first loss of the World Cup and keeping their own gold medal dreams alive.
As North America did against Finland, the game started with an all-out blitz by The Kids and were it not for goalie Sergei Bobrovsky stoning Connor McDavid on a breakaway, North America would have had a 2-0 lead in the first period. Instead, the veteran Russian squad adjusted, using their smarts to defuse the speedy kids in the second period. And if you weren't aware, the Russians have some pretty special offensive talents themselves. Those players – including Vladimir Tarasenko, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Vlad Namestnikov – booted North America netminder Matt Murray in the middle frame with three quick goals that gave Russia a 4-1 cushion.
A furious third period featuring a huge hit by Alexei Emelin on Jack Eichel, a truncated 5-on-3 power play for North America and a last-minute scramble with the goalie pulled and another power play finished off the night, with Russia holding fast thanks to Bobrovsky.
But this game was all about the second period. Murray wasn't bad (and the second goal was bad luck, with the puck taking a funny bounce off the boards and falling right to Nikita Kucherov), but Russia definitely took over.
“We fell back a bit,” said North America's Colton Parayko. “They got one and we gave them a bit too much credit and sat back.”
Style-wise, Russia managed to ground North America's run-and-gun attack. In the first period, North America had their older opponent on its heels, either scrambling like fighter jets in the Russian zone or disrupting passing lanes with active sticks in the defensive end. But in the second, Russia played smarter and a little more carefully. Passes were harder and crisper and this time it was the kids chasing the play. The first sign of trouble for North America came on a brilliant shift by Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin, Nikolay Kulemin, where the Russian trio sustained possession for a long stretch in the offensive zone and had the kids running around.
Most importantly, Russia's vets adapted as the game went on. Pavel Datstyuk got burned by McDavid on the game's opening goal, but made a ton of savvy plays from then on. Similarly, the Montreal duo of Emelin and Andrei Markov had their adventures, but also played hard-nosed, physical hockey, getting under North America's skin.
While North America has been a fan favorite early on in this tournament, Russia deserved the win and thanks to a smart team effort, they got it.