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World Championship

Nikita Kucherov, Artemi Panarin power Russia to bronze at Worlds

Lightning forward scores goal against Finland; Blackhawks left wing leads tournament in scoring

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

COLOGNE, Germany -- They didn't leave with a gold medal from the 2017 IIHF World Championship, but Nikita Kucherov and Artemi Panarin made sure Russia left with a bronze.

Kucherov, a Tampa Bay Lightning forward, scored the final goal in Russia's 5-3 win against Finland at Lanxess Arena on Sunday. Panarin, of the Chicago Blackhawks, had an assist to give him 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in the tournament.

"I had so much fun playing with [Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov] and Panarin," said Kucherov, who finished the tournament with 15 points (seven goals, eight assists). "We play against each other a lot [in the NHL]. Here we were on one line, and they are tremendous players. You just have to be open and they'll find you."

Kucherov and Panarin proved that throughout the tournament, helping Russia win every game except two: a preliminary-round loss to the United States and a 4-2 loss to Canada in a semifinal game on Saturday.

Russia had a 2-0 lead after two periods against Canada but allowed four third-period goals. On Sunday, Finland nearly overcame Russia's 4-0 lead, scoring three straight goals to make it 4-3 with 14:31 left in regulation.

But Kucherov who came to the rescue, just as he and Panarin did for most of the tournament. His seventh goal in 10 games made it 5-3, and was scored after he charged to the net to put in his own rebound at 8:03.

"In the third, Finland bounced back and we were kind of stuck in the same situation as we were [Saturday] night," Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov said. "But [Coach Oleg Znarok] made a great decision to take a timeout. It was a good thing. After that, we kind of started to play a little bit better and [Kucherov] made a nice move, nice shot. He went to the net hard and scored the goal."

It was fitting Kucherov scored the goal after clicking so well with Panarin for nearly the entire tournament. They were first and second in scoring prior to the gold medal game between Sweden and Canada, and Kucherov was tied for the goal-scoring lead with Russian teammate Nikita Gusev and Toronto Maple Leafs rookie forward William Nylander of Sweden.

"[Kucherov] always shows his skill in the NHL and here," Orlov said. "He's an awesome player, a great player for us on the national team and for his own team, Tampa Bay. It was awesome to play with him. He showed his skill in this tournament."

So did Panarin.

After finishing with one assist in the Blackhawks' four-game loss to the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference First Round, Panarin played more like himself in the World Championship.

"I'm happy with the bronze, but I feel sad we couldn't win the gold because we had a great chance for that," Panarin said. "We scored a lot of points, but we could've scored a lot more. Still, I wouldn't say that third place is a bad result."

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