At times it was close, but in the end, a pair of clutch performances by two Tampa Bay Lightning prospects helped Team Russia advance into the semifinals against Sweden at the 2013 World Junior Championships.
Nikita Kucherov scored a late tying goal and then found the back of the net again in the shootout to help the host nation squeak past fellow Bolts prospect Tanner Richard and Team Switzerland by a narrow 4-3 score on Wednesday.
Kucherov also added an assist and Lightning goaltending prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 41 of 44 shots on goal to assist their native country in avoiding what would have been a huge upset. Bolts hopeful Nikita Nesterov also registered an assist and four shots on goal in the contest, while Artem Sergeev was held off the score sheet.
While the Russians last won World Junior gold in 2011, they haven’t prevailed on home ice since 1983. After surviving Wednesday against the Swiss, however, the highly touted hosts are now just two wins away from a championship. The last host team to win the World Juniors was Canada in 2009.
Remarkably, it was Switzerland's second shootout and fourth straight loss in extra time at this year’s tournament.
On Russia’s first power play, Switzerland’s Christoph Bertschy got a shorthanded breakaway around the five-minute mark, but Vasilevski did the splits and performed all the necessary acrobatics to force the Swiss captain’s attempt to drift harmlessly past the post.
Moments later, Russian forward Alexander Khokhlachyov gave Russia a 1-0 lead at 6:07 with a shot from the right faceoff circle that just squeezed over the Swiss netminder’s left pad.
Bertschy evened the score after a bad defensive breakdown by the Russians to take a tied game into the intermission. The second frame then yielded more of the same, with both sides trading a goal each to make it 2-2 after 40 minutes.
With the Swiss clinging to a 3-2 lead with under two minutes to play in regulation, Kucherov finally tied it up on the power play with Samuel Guerra off for slashing, swiping a bouncing puck home from the bottom of the right faceoff circle on the power play.
Kucherov was just as good in the shootout, notching the game-winner, as was Vasilevskiy, who turned back four of five shooters in the tiebreaker to earn the dramatic victory.