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Russia set to chase gold the hard way, face Czechs

Monday, 01.02.2012 / 10:26 AM / 2012 World Junior Championship

By Aaron Vickers - NHL.com Correspondent

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Russia set to chase gold the hard way, face Czechs
An overtime loss to Sweden on New Year's Eve in which it blew a three-goal, third-period lead means Russia must now get past the Czech Republic to earn a WJC semifinal date with Canada.
When Sweden stunned Russia in a come-from-behind New Year’s Eve overtime thriller, it eliminated the possibility of a gold medal rematch from last year’s World Junior Championship.
 
But that doesn’t mean a clash between Russia and Canada can’t happen in 2012.
 
If Russia can survive a quarterfinal match-up against the Czech Republic Monday, it will meet Canada in the semifinal.
 
Russian captain Yevgeni Kuznetsov is well aware of this. In fact, Kuznetsov is looking forward to it.
 
"That's why I'm here," Kuznetsov said through a translator. "I came just for that. One of us will be without the gold."

Before turning its attention to Canada, Russia will have to shake off its New Year’s Eve performance to get by the Czechs and book their Jan. 3 date with the hosts.
 
Russia entered the third period against the Swedes with a three-goal lead. They left the game with a 4-3 loss.

To say the Russians are confident despite the setback would be an understatement.
 
"It's hard when you're winning 3-0 and you lose," Nail Yakupov said. "It's a little bit shock. But that's life. We just need to keep going. It's OK, it's life, it's hockey. We just have to play one more game. It's not problem. We have one more game against the Czech Republic and it's OK. Everybody good."
 
The fact Russia was forced to go through the quarterfinal a year ago en route to capturing the World Junior title may be comforting for Kuznetsov, the only returning player from last year’s gold medal winning entry.
 
"Life goes on," Kuznetsov said. "The game is behind us. It was the same last year when we were in third place. The last few times, whoever had a bye into the semifinal, hasn't gone on to win."
 
What may concern Kuznetsov is Czech Republic goaltender Petr Mrazek. Mrazek’s 2.75 goals-against average and .917 save percentage has been impressive, but it was his orchestration of a stunning upset of the Americans in the round robin -- essentially pushing them into the relegation round -- that should cause Kuznetsov’s Russians concern.
 
In other words, goaltending is usually the difference in an elimination game.
 
"It's difficult to say right now how we’re going to win," Russian coach Valeri Bragin said through an interpreter. "They have a really good goalie and we played against them in the pre-tournament games. They play an aggressive style. This year the Czech team is not looking like it was last year or years before. It’s a good opponent."
 
That said, Bragin didn’t hesitate to boast about his team.
 
"I think we already have a good team," he said. "This loss means we have to go a more difficult road to the medal round. That's basically it."
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