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Russians rally, reach semis with SO win vs. Swiss

by Mike G. Morreale

The Russian National Junior Team and their fans breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday when Nikita Kucherov scored in the fifth round of a shootout and Andrei Vasilevskiy made one final glove save to give the host country a 4-3 victory against Switzerland in the quarterfinal round of the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.

The victory sends Russia into the semifinals of the medal round against defending gold medalist Sweden on Thursday at 8 a.m. ET (NHLN-US). Switzerland will face the Czech Republic -- 7-0 losers to the United States earlier Wednesday -- in the fifth-place game on Friday at 8 a.m. ET.

"Our team had a lot of scoring chances, and we took a lot of penalties," Russian coach Mikhail Varnakov told the IIHF website. Russia was whistled for eight minor penalties in the game.

Vasilevskiy, who stopped Switzerland's Alessio Bertaggia with a left glove save to end the game, finished with 41 saves. Swiss goalie Melvin Nyffeler turned away 33 shots. The loss marked Switzerland's fourth straight in extra time, including two via shootout, at the tournament.

"It's very tough for our players right now," Swiss coach Sean Simpson said. "They played their hearts out. Normally when you play well enough to take Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic and Russia to overtime, things work out at least one time."

In the shootout, Vasilevskiy forced Tanner Richard wide and stopped Christoph Bertschy and Sven Andrighetto in the opening three rounds. Nyffeler was equal to the task, turning away Mikhail Grigorenko, Nail Yakupov and Kucherov.

In the fourth round, Grigorenko scored and Alessio Bertaggia connected for the equalizer for the Swiss. Kucherov was then given another chance to open the fifth round and cashed in on a forehand-to-backhand move that froze Nyffeler. Bertaggia's second straight attempt for the Swiss was then stopped by Vasilevskiy to end the game.

"We need to play better and not make so many mistakes defensively," Russia's Alexander Khokhlachyov said. "We need to score on our chances."

Kucherov, a prospect of the Tampa Bay Lightning, scored a power-play goal with just 1:36 remaining in the third to pull Russia into a 3-3 tie.

"We needed our power play [against Switzerland], and we scored on the power play," said Grigorenko, who assisted Kucherov's game-tying goal.

Just 20 seconds prior to the goal, Anton Slepyshev appeared to have knotted the score, but his shot from the slot crossed the goal line after the net had been removed from its moorings, and the goal was disallowed.

The Swiss were forced to kill a minor penalty in the early stages of the 10-minute overtime when Christian Marti was whistled for hooking, giving the Russians a 4-on-3 advantage.

Andrighetto roofed his own rebound over Vasilevskiy 8:57 into the third to give the Swiss its first lead, 3-2. Andrighetto controlled an outlet pass from Samuel Guerra and sped into the Russian end. After defenseman Pavel Koledov blocked his initial shot, Andighetto picked up the loose puck and beat Vasilevskiy.

Switzerland pulled into a 2-2 tie 12:37 into the second when Martin Ness scored off an uncontested spin move to stun those in attendance at Ufa Arena. Samuel Guerra controlled the puck along the left wing half boards before launching a shot at Vasilevskiy. Ness, who was standing alone in the slot, neatly controlled the rebound before cleaning up.

Grigorenko scored his first goal of the tournament in the second to give Russia its second lead of the game, 2-1.

Grigorenko, who has been one of the more active forwards on the Russian roster throughout the tournament, scored in his fifth game and 21st shot of the tournament 9:07 into the second. The Buffalo Sabres' prospect took an attempted shot by Kucherov in the left circle before skating through the slot and unleashing a hard backhand that beat Nyffeler.

Switzerland failed to score on a pair of two-man advantages in the game. The first was for a minute when the contest was tied 1-1 at 4:10 of the second period. The second extended for 1:25 when the game was knotted 2-2 late in the second. That advantage bridged the second and third periods.

Russia opened a 1-0 lead 6:07 into the first when Alexander Khokhlachyov connected for a power-play goal. The Swiss almost took the lead shorthanded at the start of the Russian power-play when Minnesota Wild prospect Bertschy stole a pass and just missed tucking home a shot into the right-hand corner on Vailevskiy at 4:59.

Bertschy made no mistake, however, on his second shorthanded chance at 10:05 of the first when he stole an ill-advised drop pass from Nikita Nesterov in the Russian end and beat Vasilevskiy to square the contest. Nesterov attempted to drop a pass for Yakupov in the high slot, but the lightning-quick Bertschy anticipated the play and connected for his third of the tournament.

"This was clearly one of the most exciting games I've played in," Bertschy said. "You're not every day in a quarter-final of the World [Junior] Championship. Everybody was ready to play. We just didn't get the win."

Nyffeler kept the game even in the first with a tremendous pad save while on his back off the stick of Grigorenko with less than one minute remaining.

Russia was playing without the services of 2013 draft-eligible forward Valeri Nichushkin, who was serving a one-game suspension for an illegal hit from behind in a 4-1 loss to Canada on Monday.

Switzerland actually finished pool play fourth in scoring with 16 goals, including three from Mike Kunzle. The Swiss only won once in the preliminary round, a 7-2 opening-game victory against Latvia, but picked up single points in shootout losses to Sweden and Finland and an overtime loss to the Czech Republic in Group A.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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