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Connolly, Canada bring home bronze; Kucherov, Nesterov and Russia fall in gold-medal game

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

Three Lightning prospects capped off the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championships tournament on Thursday by earning medals for their native countries.

Brett Connolly and Team Canada earned the Bronze Medal following a 4-0 victory over Finland, while both Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Nesterov of Team Russia won silver after being edged out, 1-0, by Sweden in the competition’s Gold-Medal Game.

Canada had little trouble dealing with the Finns, as Tanner Pearson put his side out to an early one-goal lead in the first period.

Mark Scheifele doubled the advantage just five minutes into the second , and Quinton Howden scored twice in succession to end the scoring and ensure Canada a victory.

The Canadians held a 44-27 shot advantage in the game, while the win came as the result of timely scoring, excellent goaltending and discipline.

“We did not want to leave this tournament empty-handed,” Connolly said. “We have a lot of pride in this jersey, and we owed it to the fans of Edmonton and Calgary. We left it all on the ice today.”

In contrast, the Gold-Medal Game proved to be a bit more intense, as the both sides failed to light the lamp in each of the first three periods, sending a scoreless deadlock into sudden-death overtime.

Sweden came out strong and dominated in the shots department, despite not getting anything past Russian goaltender Andrei Makarov, who made an eye-popping 57 saves in the game.

The Swedes outshot Russia 17-3 through the first 20 minutes and even held a 39-4 shot advantage after two periods.

Russian captain and tournament MVP Yevgeni Kuznetsov put together his team's first major chance of the night when he clanged a one-timer off of both posts at 9:30 of the third on the power play.

Kuznetsov then gave teammate Nikita Gusev a golden chance at the game-winner, sliding a gorgeous backhand pass across the ice to his streaking linemate, but goaltender Johan Gustafsson answered his biggest test of the night, sliding over and getting his body in front of the shot to take the game to overtime.

With everything riding on the line, Sweden’s Mika Zibanejad finally notched the game’s first goal at 10:09 of the extra period, capturing the gold medal for his club while also upending the defending tournament champs.

The victory marked Sweden’s first gold medal at the tournament in 31 years. It proved to be a tough journey, as the resilient and battle-tested Swedes played in four overtime/shootout games.

They defeated Switzerland 4-3 in a shootout on Dec. 28, erased a 3-0 third-period deficit against Russia on New Year's Eve before winning in overtime, and came back from a 2-0 hole to score a shootout win over Finland to land a spot in Thursday’s finale.

"Everybody can be the hero. That's Mika, giving us the big goal when we needed it most," Swedish head coach Roger Ronnberg said.

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