In fact, he felt that assessment was pretty accurate.
In spite of those long odds, Russia advanced to the semifinals of the 2015 WJC for a second straight year at the expense of the U.S., winning 3-2 behind 39 saves from goaltender Igor Shesterkin (New York Rangers).
“Everyone thought the Russian team was the underdog, and I agreed with that,” Bragin said. “The American team has a lot of skilled players, is well organized on all lines. But at the start of the game, we capitalized on our chances on the power play, then scored a second time, had some more chances and finally deserved to win.”
Ivan Barbashev (St. Louis Blues), Sergey Tolchinsky (Carolina Hurricanes) and Alexander Sharov scored for Russia, which will face Sweden in the semifinals at Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Sunday.
“This win means a lot for us,” Barbashev said. “We knew all the country was watching the game, all Russia, and we knew that it was a very important game.”
Anthony DeAngelo (Tampa Bay Lightning) and defenseman Zach Werenski (2015 draft eligible) responded for the U.S., which lost 5-3 to Russia in the quarterfinals of the 2014 WJC in Malmo, Sweden.
“It’s definitely not what we came in looking for,” DeAngelo said. “We thought we were going to be able to compete for the gold, but it just wasn’t our year.”
This is the third time in four years the U.S. will not play for a medal at the WJC, whereas Russia is guaranteed to play for a medal at this tournament for a fifth straight year.
“I felt we were a family, a team,” Tolchinsky said. “We played with heart. We had a lot of urgency and I think it was a very good game for us.”
The U.S. entered the game as the least penalized team in the tournament, but that trend did not last into the medal round. The U.S. was called for five minor penalties in the first period alone and eight in the game after taking a tournament-low 13 penalties in four games coming in.
“We probably shot ourselves in the foot,” U.S. coach Mark Osiecki said. “We talked about it as a staff [Thursday] of how disciplined we have been, and they did a great job with that up until that point.
“For whatever reason, it went the other way [Friday].”
The first period parade to the penalty box gave a jolt of momentum to Russia and allowed it to enter the first intermission with a 2-0 lead.
The lack of U.S. discipline began right off the opening faceoff, with Tyler Motte (Chicago Blackhawks) and Ryan Collins (Columbus Blue Jackets) being called for penalties 31 seconds apart before the game was two minutes old.
“We knew they were a skilled team and we wanted to go stick on puck,” U.S. captain Jack Eichel said. “There were a couple of stick penalties. We’ve just got to move our feet. It’s over and done with now, can’t really complain.”
Barbashev scored on the ensuing two-man advantage, poking home a rebound off a goal mouth scramble in front of U.S. goalie Thatcher Demko (Vancouver Canucks) at 2:31 of the first period.
Sharov gave Russia a 2-0 lead nine seconds after an offensive zone penalty to Hudson Fasching (Buffalo Sabres) had expired. A centering pass by Russia forward Maxim Mamin hit off the skate of U.S. defenseman Brandon Carlo (2015 draft eligible), forcing Demko to make a save. The rebound bounced right to Sharov, who scored at 15:25 of the opening period.
The U.S. took two more penalties by the midway point of the second period, but its own power play cut the deficit in half when DeAngelo scored on a bullet from the point during a two-man advantage at 12:43 of the period.
It was the United States’ third power-play goal of the tournament, and it failed to capitalize on another two-man advantage in the third period that lasted 1:18.
“We took too many penalties,” Eichel said. “There were some questionable calls, but we didn’t capitalize on our power plays or the 5-on-3 in the third period. That was the difference tonight.”
Tolchinsky made it 3-1 early in the third period on Russia’s eighth power play of the game. His shot from the slot deflected off the stick of U.S. forward Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings) and floated past Demko at 1:27 of the third. Larkin, who was the best player for the U.S. in this tournament and this game, put both hands to his face in frustration as soon as the red light went on behind Demko.
“He’s a true pro, right now, at his age,” Osiecki said of Larkin. “The way he prepares himself, the way he educates himself. He’s constantly watching his shifts, he wants to get better. He’s watching technique on faceoffs and trying to get better.
“But the way he approaches the game right now at a young age, he’s a true pro.”
The U.S. made it 3-2 at 8:56 of the third period when Werenski’s wrist shot from the point beat Shesterkin, who appeared to be screened. But the U.S. was unable to come all the way back in spite of a strong third period push, outshooting Russia 20-5 over the final 20 minutes.
“[Shesterkin] is just a great goalie. He saved us,” Tolchinsky said. “He's a great guy and he's a big part of our team. Thanks a lot to him.”
Author: Arpon Basu | Managing Editor LNH.com