Vladimir Tkachyov was only doing what all good goal-scorers are taught at a young age -- keep your head up and go for the rebound.
Tkachyov was Johnny-on-the-spot when he knocked in a loose puck from the slot 4:10 into the third period to give Russia a 2-1 victory over the United States on Friday in Group B action at the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
Tkachyov's goal stood as the winner thanks to the superb play of Russian goalie Andrei Makarov. In his first start of the tournament, Makarov made 15 of his 41 saves in the third period en route to being named Russia's player of the game.
"[Makarov] certainly made a big difference in the win; he played an excellent game," U.S. coach Phil Housley told NHL.com. "I thought if we would have capitalized on some chances early … he made two big saves and, in particular, that one on John Gaudreau with his toe.
"Maybe that would have changed the complexion of the game for us, but certainly I'm happy with the way we played," Housley continued. "Everyone competed and played hard. I thought we maybe could have gotten more pucks to the net in the third."
U.S. goaltender John Gibson was stellar in defeat with 28 saves, including 10 in the third.
Forward J.T. Miller said the team remains focused despite the disappointing loss.
"It was pretty quiet [in the locker room] after the game," Miller told NHL.com. "I think the guys knew we should have won that game. We all put everything we had on the line. We're a little more upbeat now … just trying to focus on Canada."
The victory moves Russia into second place in Group B with five points (one regulation win, one overtime win). The host country has two preliminary-round matches remaining, against fifth-place Germany on Saturday and first-place Canada on Monday.
The United States, which will next face Canada (two regulation wins, six points) on Sunday, drops to third with three points. The U.S. also has a preliminary-round date with fourth-place Slovakia on Monday.
"I thought we played a pretty well-rounded game … I think we outplayed them for portions of the game and it could have went our way as easily as it went their way, so obviously there are things you could work around," Miller said. "I thought we didn't manage the puck as well as we could have at times, but other than that it was a good game."
Tkachyov brought the hometown faithful to their feet at the Ufa Arena when he knocked home a rebound off a splendid individual effort by top 2013 draft-eligible forward Varleri Nichushkin.
After taking possession of the puck in his own end, Nichushkin skated the length of the ice before curling around U.S. defenseman Seth Jones deep in the right circle and then jamming an attempt on Gibson. The rebound skittered right onto the tape of a charging Tkachyov in the slot.
"[Tkachyov] followed up the play nicely," Housley said. "We got a little caught, flat-footed, in the neutral zone and [Nichushkin] made a nice power move to the net. Gibson put his paddle down and it just hit someone's skate and deflected out [to Tkachyov]. Maybe we could have picked that guy up, but it's unfortunate the skate hit the puck. Gibson played well and gave us a chance to win, and that's all you could ask for from your goalie."
The goal didn't seem to deflate the United States, however, as the Americans kept pressuring -- until Russian coach Mikhail Varnakov called his timeout with 11:28 remaining. The break seemed to recharge the Russian players, who starting dictating some of the action. Gibson was called upon to make several big saves at that point, including one on a semi-breakaway by Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Nikita Kucherov.
The United States soon re-established itself and began putting the pedal to the metal in the hope of scoring the equalizer, but Makarov would have the final word. With just 1:32 left in the third, the U.S. was given a power play when Kirill Kapustin was called for checking from behind. The U.S. pressed and had a 6-on-4 skating advantage after Housley pulled Gibson for an extra attacker with 51 seconds showing, but Russia's defense stood tall.
"I thought we got a little cute, especially in the third period when we had chances to get pucks to the net, but we're trying to find that guy through the seam and they're an excellent transition team," Housley said. "But I thought our whole team played well. All our guys competed and we were right there in the end. We didn't get that tying goal, but I'm proud of the effort."
For Makarov, an undrafted free agent signed by the Buffalo Sabres in September, the game is a continuation of the effort he put forth for silver medal-winning Russia at the 2012 WJC. Filling in for Andrei Vasilevski midway through the semifinal match against Canada last year and then getting the start against Sweden in the gold medal game, Makarov posted a 1-1 record with a 0.88 goals-against average and .979 save percentage at the tournament. He and Vasilevski combine for what many feel is the best one-two punch in goal for any team at this year's WJC.
"When you have a goalie that's hot like that, and seeing the puck, sometimes it's just a matter of getting the puck to the net to try and create some havoc," Housley said. "Other than that, I think we'll be fine."
Defenseman Jacob Trouba, who was named the U.S. player of the game, tied the score at 1-1 when he ripped a slap shot from the point past Makarov 13:18 into the second period. Alex Galchenyuk gathered the puck in the right circle before feathering a pass to Trouba at the point. Trouba's shot appeared to tip off the leg of Russian forward Daniil Zharkov, who went down to one knee to try to block the attempt.
Gibson needed to make a great save less than three minutes into the second to keep his team within one. Rocco Grimaldi attempted an ill-advised cross-ice pass in the offensive zone that sent Zharkov on a 2-on-0 break in the opposite direction. As Zharkov entered the left circle, U.S. defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere raced back to impede his path to the slot, forcing the crafty Russian to shot a little sooner than he wanted to, and Gibson made the stop.
The U.S. couldn't take advantage of its first power-play opportunity of the period when Kirill Dyakov was whistled for tripping at 5:12. The Grind Line, consisting of U.S. forwards Blake Pietila, Ryan Hartman and Cole Bardreau, did a great job on the forecheck throughout. The trio played a big role in forcing the Russian penalty late in the period that led to the U.S. goal.
The Russians opened a 1-0 lead just 2:42 into the game when Albert Yarullin one-timed power-play shot from the left circle off a pass from Nikita Nesterov. Edmonton Oilers prospect and 2012 first-overall draft choice Nail Yakupov also assisted on the goal, which appeared to deflect off U.S. defenseman Jake McCabe in front before eluding Gibson.
Makarov had made an extraordinary save on Gaudreau less than a minute earlier. Gaudreau broke in 3-on-1 before taking a pass at the right post from Miller. Makarov slid to his left to deny the U.S. forward with a nifty toe save to keep the game scoreless.
The United States was given a power-play opportunity just 15 seconds after the Russian goal, but could not cash in. The U.S. is fortunate the deficit wasn't greater after one period, as it had to deny the Russians on three other power-play chances, including quick back-to-back opportunities midway through the period.
The United States is 6-20-0 all-time against Russia at the WJC.
In other 2013 WJC action on Friday, Sweden scored a 3-2 shootout decision over Switzerland.
Carolina Hurricanes prospect Victor Rask scored the only goal in the shootout to put Sweden in first place with five points in two games in Group A. Switzerland, which never trailed in the game prior to the shootout, is second with four points in two games.
Eliot Antonietti had given Switzerland a 1-0 lead 14:04 into the first before Sweden's Sebastian Collberg (Montreal Canadiens) squared the contest 10:32 into the second. Mike Kunzle connected less than two minutes later to give the Swiss a 2-1 lead.
Sweden defenseman Emil Djuse, who is eligible for the 2013 Draft, converted a feed from Rickard Rakell (Anaheim Ducks) 6:14 into the third to even the game, 2-2. Swedish goalie Joel Lassinantti finished with 29 saves and Swiss goalie Melvin Nyffeler made 36 stops. Lassinantti was replaced prior to the shootout by Niklas Lundstrom, who made three saves, including the clincher against Lino Martschini.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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