-- Russia continued its miracle run through the 2011 World Junior Championships on Monday, clawing its way to a stunning 4-3 shootout win against heavily favored Sweden in the semifinals.
This time, the Russians scored the tying goals with 87 seconds left in regulations and then earned the victory -- and a berth in the gold-medal game -- when Denis Golubev scored the only goal among the five attempts during the shootout tiebreaker to break the deadlock and give Russia a 4-3 decision.
"We saved the game last night and we saved the game tonight," Russian forward Maxim Kitsyn
said through a translator. "You can only dream of a team like this. We are playing as a team, playing all together. The coaches, the guys on the team, we are all together."
Amazingly, the Russians on Monday topped what the Russians did Sunday night against the Finns, scoring a pair of goals in the last four minutes of regulation to force OT before Yevgeny Kuznetsov scored in the seventh minute of overtime for an unexpected -- but deserved -- victory.
Now, the miracle-working Russians advance to Wednesday's gold-medal game, playing the winner of Monday night's semifinal between Canada and the United States. Sweden, meanwhile, plays the loser of the Canada-USA game for the right to wear bronze.
The unity of which Kitsyn spoke was certainly necessary Monday as the Russians had surrendered a two-goal lead and were absorbing wave after wave of Swedish pressure in the third period. When Patrick Cehlin
scored a power-play goal with 3:19 remaining to give Sweden its first lead, it seemed as good a time as any to finally perform last rites on the Russians.
"We were all out at the end," Kitsyn said. "We could barely stay on our feet. It was very hard. In OT, we were just playing defense and relying on counter attacks and occasional rushes. Even in the third, it was like that."
But, the Russians have proven repeatedly during the past 24 hours that they have no quit in them.
This time, it was Sergei Kalinen that played the hero, barging into the slot and diving at a loose puck to shovel it past Swedish goalie Robin Lehner
before the goalie could freeze the puck.
"Just imagine to be in this spot and you are 18 years old and you are playing in semifinals; you don't think about being too tired or something," said Yevgeni Kuznetsov, who scored the winning goal Sunday night. "You only think how to move forward. That is what I was I thinking."
So, they tied the game and then they weathered a hellacious storm thrown their way by the Swedes, who clearly sensed a weakness in the tired Russians, but could not break through with the knockout punch that would doom the Russians to the bronze medal game and propel the Swedes to the gold-medal game so many had predicted for this extremely talented side.
"I don't have the answers to why this happened," said Lehner, who made 28 saves. "We forgot some details that we have been really good at. It's hard. I just don't think we were mentally prepared for this one."
Defenseman Adam Larsson
, who had a goal and two assists in the contest, said it was a matter of his team not skating as it had in the past. Swedish coach Roger Ronnberg, meanwhile, said that the team never got into the flow of the game in the first half and too often fell into the neutral-zone traps being set up by a Russian team intent on counter-attacking to conserve energy.
"I think we lost against the better team today," Ronnberg said. "I think we had our worst game when we needed (our best) most."
Still, with all that, the Swedes were in a position to extend the shootout after Golubev scored, but Swedish captain Anton Lander
hit the crossbar with Sweden's final attempt. It was an agony that was felt by every player in the Swedish room.
"This was my last year, so I'm disappointed," Larsson said. "We expected to make the final. We're working together and working for each other and going out there and working 60 minutes. It wasn't enough tonight."
Vladimir Tarsenkov and Golubev scored the first two goals of the game, putting Russia in charge early. But, Larsson -- with a bomb from the point -- and Calle Jarnkrok
on an impressive drive to the net for a tip-in past Russian goalie Dmitri Shikin.
But, in the end, it was Shikin that proved to be the difference. Not only did he not allow a goal in the shootout -- stopping Oscar Lindbergh and Sebastian Wannstrom
before Lander hit the post, but he stopped 46 o0f 49 shots in the game, including all five he faced in overtime.
"He plays like he tries to stop everything and we just help him," Kuznetsov said. "You see the results."
Now, the whole hockey world has seen the results. And, those results the Russians have fashioned as a team will be on display in the gold-medal game. Do the Russians have a preference between Canada and the United States?
"No difference," Kuznetsov said. "Even Brazil; I don't care."