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IIHF Worlds: U.S.- Russia tilt highlights opening round

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

No disrespect to the United States' team in the IIHF World Championships, but with all of the offensive firepower on Russia's roster, a 3-3 tie entering the third period of their preliminary round match-up was already an upset.

The first two periods were back-and-forth, exciting hockey with four goals between the two teams in the first 14 minutes of the game - two of those coming off the stick of Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny, who has been anchoring the top line for Team USA. Russia opened the scoring, though, set up by a nice play from Blue Jackets center Artem Anisimov, who drew a delayed penalty in the offensive zone and proceeded to carry the puck along the half wall.

Anisimov made a quick dish to the left point where veteran defenseman Denis Denisov sent a one-time pass over to Anton Belov, who wired a one-time blast past U.S. goaltender Ben Bishop at 5:23 of the first period. That was just the start of the offense, as Stastny scored his two goals in the next eight minutes (back-to-back) to give the Americans a 2-1 lead.

Like many leads in this game, Team USA's lead in the first period did not last long. Set up deftly by Ilya Nikulin in the neutral zone, Ilya Kovalchuk snapped his tournament-best fifth goal of the Worlds by Bishop's blocker side to tie the game once again at 14:04.

Matt Hunwick continued the Avalanche scoring theme in the second period, tallying the go-ahead goal just after a dominant U.S. power play had expired. Aaron Palushaj, an Avalanche teammate, shockingly picked up the primary assist on Hunwick's goal (I'm kidding, but you get my point - and former Colorado coach Joe Sacco is the bench boss for Team USA).

The best goal of the game was scored by Alexei Tereshenko late in the second period, an artful goal off the rush that pulled Russia back even at 3-3 with 8:41 to go. Former Blue Jackets draft pick Sergei Mozyakin, now a scoring sensation in the Kontinental Hockey League, was also involved in the goal and picked up the lone helper. That set the stage for a crazy third period, deadlocked at three goals apiece in a surprisingly tight opening-round game.

Mistakes were the story for the U.S. in the third period, and Russia made the most of them.

Russia got the go-ahead goal with 6:25 to play and Alex Radulov capped it off with a power-play goal less than two minutes later.

"After two periods, I thought the play was fairly even," Sacco said post-game. "But in the third period, we got ourselves into a little bit of trouble and they capitalized. Besides us getting the short end of the stick and losing the game, I was pleased with our players' effort and I thought our guys competed hard against a good hockey team. It was a well-played game by both sides."

Other notes to get caught up on this week's action:

- Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen is in Finland to watch the World Championships, and was able to catch Wednesday's game between the U.S. and Russia.

- Nashville Predators forward Craig Smith scored a hat trick in Team USA's 4-1 win over Finland on Wednesday afternoon. Next up for the Americans (3-1-0) is a preliminary round game against France on Saturday. It's a 5:15 a.m. ET face-off that will air live on the NBC Sports Network and can be streamed live on via NBC Sports.

- Anisimov saw a lot more ice time than he did in Russia's first two games of the tournament, logging 15:54 against Team USA and winning 57 percent of his face-offs. Anisimov has centered a secondary scoring/checking line that's played in all situations for the Russians.

- Following a solid pair of opening games, Tyutin didn't have the best day against the U.S., picking up a pair of minor penalties - the first (holding) resulting in Stastny's 2-1 goal in the first period.

- Russia's next opponent in the World Championships is today (Thursday) against France at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki.

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