By Glenn Odebralski for floridapanthers.com
It wasn't supposed to end like this.
Up 3-0 with just 20 minutes to play, Canada could smell gold.
Russia had other plans however.
Outplayed for a solid forty minutes, the Russians turned it on in the last stanza and scored five times on their way to the 5-3 victory and World Junior Championships gold.
"It's probably one of the toughest pills I've had to swollow," said Panthers first round pick Erik Gudbranson
who finished with two shots and a minor penalty. "As a hockey player, the amount of work that we put in together, we've been together for a month and for it to come down in the third period like that, it just sucks."
"A brutal feeling," said Canada goaltender Mark Visentin who finished with 22 saves in the loss. "To be up 3-0 and for the Russian's to come back and beat us, it's a terrible pill to swallow. There's really no words to describe it right now."
"I don't really how to explain it really. More shocked than anything. Just ticked off," said Canada forward Marcus Foligno. "We let the Russians get to us in the third period. We had the game folded up and ready to go."
The comeback started 2:33 into the third as Artemi Panarin scored on a shot above Visentin's glove. Maxim Kitsyn would get them to within one on the very next shift as the puck squeeked through Visentin's legs off the rush.
You could see that with each shift and each goal in the third, the Russians gaining confidence while the Canadians players and their fans becoming more nervous.
The Russians captain Vladimir Tarasenko tied the game off a one-timer from the slot, scoring off the feed from Yevgeni Kuznetsov (his second of three assists in the contest) with 7:29 gone.
"I don't think there's any explanation for it," said Gudbranson of the breakdown. "We were working. We were trying to do what we could. I think the two first goals put us back on our heals pretty early and unfortunately we weren't able to respond as we wanted to."
Then with 4:38 remaining, the Russians took their first lead of the game. After several turnovers in the Canadian zone, Panarin netted his second of the night by chipping the puck over Visentin's shoulder.
With Canada pressing for the equalizer, Nikita Dvurechenski put the nail in the coffin. Getting behind Canada's defense, he scored five-hole with 1:16 left.
All that was left was for the comeback Russians (third straight victory after trailing in the third) to celebrate the final win.
"You have to give them credit. That's a fighting team over there," said Gudbranson. "That's a fighting team on the other side. They never gave up. You look at the quarters, semis and finals, they never gave up at any point. We knew that they were going to come back hard."
"It's really tough watching them out there celebrate," said Visentin. "We really dedicated ourselves and really sacrificed a lot to win this gold medal. To come on the short end of the stick, it's a big blow to us, that's for sure.
The game started off early, thanks to Canada's captain. Working the puck around the perimeter on the power play, Ryan Ellis fired a shot past Dmitri Shikin just 4:50 into the contest.
The Canadians and Russians played almost to a stand still for the rest of the period. The Maple Leaf would strike with 14 seconds left, taking a stranglehold on the game as Carter Ashton scored off a nice give-and-go with Louis Leblanc from just above the goal line.
Howden had a great chance to triple the lead for Canada 2:15 into the second. Parked in front of the Russian net, he redirected the point shot just wide.
While Howden couldn't make it 3-0, Kings prospect Brayden Schenn did, as he was set up by Sabres prospect Marcus Foligno off a turnover with 6:27 gone in the second. That would be all for Shikin.
Killing off a penalty, Russia actually had a great chance to get on the board with 11:30 to play in the second. Danil Sobchenko found himself behind the Canada defense but Visentin made the glove save on the forward.
There was a scary moment with 4:29 left in the second as Tarasenko lost his footing while skating with the puck in the Canadian zone and Foligno tried to jump over him but clipped him with the skate. He was down for several minutes before being helped off the ice.
And after 40 minutes to play, it was Canada 3, Russia 0. Just enough time for a comeback.
"I don't really believe in the saying that you won a silver medal. I think we lost gold," said Visentin. "That's why we came here. We didn't come here to win a silver medal. We came here to get gold. It's a brutal feeling losing. At the same time, I'm proud of what we battled through. Not a lot of people saw us making it to the gold medal game this year and for all the returning guys next year, it gets us that much more motivated."