Skip to main content

Five things learned from World Junior semifinals

by Mike G. Morreale

Ilya Samsonov, the first goaltender chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft, made 26 saves to help Russia defeat the United States 2-1 on Monday in the semifinal round of the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Finland.

The win marked the third straight year the United States has had its gold-medal hopes shattered by Russia. Russia defeated the United States in the quarterfinal round of the WJC the previous two years, 5-3 in 2014 and 3-2 in 2015.

The WJC gold-medal game on Tuesday at Hartwall Arena will feature Finland against Russia (1 p.m. ET; NHLN). The bronze-medal game will pit the United States against Sweden (9 a.m. ET; NHLN). Finland won 2-1 against Sweden in the other semifinal Monday at Hartwall Arena.

Samsonov, selected No. 22 by the Washington Capitals last June, was making his first start in the playoff round. He made 13 saves in the third period. Russia coach Valeri Bragin decided to start Samsonov after Alexander Georgiev allowed three goals on 21 shots in a 4-3 overtime victory against Denmark in the quarterfinal round.

Pavel Kraskovsky, a sixth-round pick by the Winnipeg Jets in 2014, and Yegor Korshkov, a B-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list for the 2016 draft, scored goals in a span of 2:48 in the second period to give Samsonov all the support he would need. Christian Dvorak (Arizona Coyotes) scored 9:03 into the first for the United States, which seemed to gain momentum after denying Russia on a 5-on-3 power play for two minutes late in the first.

Korshkov scored off a quick burst down his right wing. He entered the circle and curled U.S. defenseman Zachary Werenski (Columbus Blue Jackets) before beating goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic (Carolina Hurricanes) just inside the right post at 17:56.

"They were a little faster than we expected and they got the puck to the outside and beat some guys," U.S. coach Ron Wilson told NHL Network. "It's as simple as that. We should have done a better job at trying to score some goals. We came close in the third period, but close isn't good enough."

The United States is now 5-12 all-time against Russia in the WJC, losing the past five games. The U.S. last won 3-2 against Russia in the preliminary round in 2007.

The Americans, who won the gold medal with a 3-1 win against Sweden in 2013, have never beaten Russia in the knockout round of the tournament in seven opportunities. Russia assured itself a medal for a sixth straight year, and the 11th time in the past 12 tournaments. The three players of the tournament for the United States were goaltender Nedeljkovic, defenseman Werenski and center Auston Matthews.

"This is a tough pill to swallow," Matthews said. "It's not the outcome we wanted but you're playing for your country and you have to play with pride, so we'll get ready for [Tuesday]."

Here are five things we learned in the semifinal round of the World Junior Championship:

Russia shuts out top line -- After posting impressive numbers prior to their semifinal-round matchup against Russia, the top line of Matthews centering left wing Matthew Tkachuk and right wing Colin White (Ottawa Senators) was unable to muster any magic.

The trio combined for no points and seven shots on goal.

"Russia's defensemen were blocking a lot of shots, and that's really all I can say until I see the tape," Wilson said.

Matthews, an A-rated skater on Central Scouting's November players to watch list, had two shots. Matthews, who leads the tournament with seven goals and is tied for third with 11 points, needs one goal to tie the U.S. record of eight in one WJC tournament by Jeremy Roenick in 1989.

The line of Matthews, Tkachuk (two goals, eight points) and White (three goals, seven points) combined for 26 points, or 40 percent of the 65 total points scored by the United States entering the game.

"They blocked a lot of shots and were tough in front of the net, and I think that was the biggest difficulty for us was getting shots through and getting guys to the net," Matthews told NHL Network.

Finns show forward depth -- Finland's top offensive unit, Jesse Puljujarvi, Sebastian Aho (Carolina Hurricanes) and Patrik Laine, was held to no points and just four shots on goal; teammates Mikko Rantanen (Colorado Avalanche) and Kasperi Kapanen (Toronto Maple Leafs) picked up the slack to help the country reach the gold-medal game for the second time in three years.

Each player entered the semifinal-round game against Sweden with two points in five games.

"This was our best game in the tournament," Rantanen told the IIHF website.

Rantanen, the Finland captain, and Kapanen assisted Roope Hintz (Dallas Stars) to tie the game 1-1 at 11:08 of the second. They assisted on the go-ahead power-play goal by Antti Kalapudas 1:56 later.

"[Rantanen] has been a big part of our team in the tournament; he's a great leader, and it was nice to see him get rewarded for his work on the ice," Aho told the IIHF website.

Puljujarvi, Laine and Aho, named Finland's top three players at the tournament, have combined for 15 goals and 38 points in six games. Puljujarvi leads the tournament with 10 assists and 15 points.

Finland leads the tournament with 31 goals and 11 power-play goals. Finland has scored more than 30 goals twice in the past 18 WJC events, and won a gold medal each time. They scored 35 goals in 1998 and 34 in 2014.

The win enabled Finland to even the all-time series 16-16 against Sweden at the WJC. There have been two ties.

Kahkonen comes up big -- Finland goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen (Minnesota Wild) certainly has made the most of a big opportunity.

Since replacing Veini Vehvilainen, a B-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list, midway through the quarterfinal-round victory against Canada on Saturday, Kahkonen has made 41 saves on 44 shots for Finland.

A fourth-round pick (No. 109) of the Wild in 2014, Kahkonen was forced into action 7:20 into the second with Canada holding a 3-2 lead after Vehvilainen allowed three goals on 12 shots. Kahkonen made 20 saves on 22 shots the remainder of the game to help in Finland's comeback.

Kahkonen, 19, earned the start against Sweden and made 21 saves, including 11 in the first period when Sweden was pushing the pace. Kahkonen, the likely starter against Russia, has a 2.36 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in three WJC games.

Gold-medal snapshot -- Russia won 6-4 against Finland in a preliminary-round game on Dec. 26 at Hartwall Arena. Finland had taken a 3-1 lead before Russia stormed back with three power-play goals and one shorthanded goal against the host country.

Finland outshot Russia 32-25. Korshkov, who has two goals and six assists in six games, had three assists in the victory against Finland.

The gold-medal game will likely feature two different goalies. Vehvilainen and Georgiev were the starters that game for Finland and Russia, respectively. There's a strong chance Kahkonen and Samsonov, the semifinal-round winners, will get the nod.

Russia won a silver medal at the 2015 WJC, losing 5-4 to Canada in the final at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Finland, which finished seventh at the 2015 WJC, seeks its fourth WJC title and first since 2014. In addition to its 1998 gold-medal win, Finland won gold in 1987.

Bronze medal snapshot -- The United States and Sweden will play for a second time at the 2016 WJC. The U.S. will play for a bronze medal for the first time since the 2011 WJC in Buffalo, the same year Russia last won gold.

Sweden won 1-0 against the United States in preliminary-round play Dec. 28 as goaltender Linus Soderstrom (New York Islanders) made 46 saves. Soderstrom lost 4-2 to Slovakia in the bronze-medal game at the 2015 WJC.

"We have to play the same way we did against them the first time and it'll be tough because it's less than 24 hours, but we'll rebound and come up with a good performance," Wilson said. "I'm just going to have to appeal to their pride. I expect them to be ready for the game. We have to play the game; there's nothing else to play for, so we might as well get the [bronze]."

The win ended a 12-game winning streak by the U.S. against Sweden in the tournament. Alexander Nylander, an A-rated skater on Central Scouting's November players to watch list, scored off a breakaway in the second against Nedeljkovic.

"We have to play hard and come out like we did the first time we played [Sweden]," Nedeljkovic said. "I have no doubt we'll come out on top if we continue to play the way we've been playing. We don't have to change anything."

The victory by Sweden was its first against the United States at the WJC since 1996.

"Sweden is pretty similar defensively (to Russia)," Matthews said. "They block a lot of shots and their goalie was outstanding against us. We'll have to refocus and try to win that game and bring home a medal."

View More

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.