Oh, what a feeling to have superior goaltending.
On the biggest stage of their junior hockey careers and before an energetic capacity crowd, Russian goalie Andrei Makarov and Sweden's Johan Gustafsson put on a clinic. In the process, they put everyone in attendance on the edge of their seat.
After more than 70 minutes of scoreless hockey, Sweden's Mika Zibanejad scored 10:09 into overtime to give his country a 1-0 triumph and its first WJC gold medal in 31 years. Zibanejad, picked by the Ottawa Senators with the sixth selection in last June's NHL Draft, picked up a loose puck near the red line, drove hard down the right wing, along the wall, before curling around a defenseman, cutting to the middle and lifting a picturesque backhand over Makarov to send his team and an entire country into a frenzy.
It was the only one of Sweden's 58 shots to beat Makarov. Gustafsson, who was barely tested in the first 40 minutes, was sharp in the third period and OT, finishing with 17 saves.
The triumph enables Tre Kronor to celebrate its first gold medal at the WJC since 1981. The country settled for silver in 2008 and '09 and claimed bronze in 2010. The Swedes had met the Soviet Union three times in the gold medal match -- 1978, '89 and '92 -- and lost all three contests.
Russia had its best chance with 32 seconds remaining in regulation when captain Yevgeny Kuznetsov skated into the left circle between two defenders before dealing a spinorama pass off his backhand feed to Nikita Gusev in the slot. The puck hit Gusev's blade but Gustafsson somehow made the save to keep the game scoreless.
In the overtime, Rickard Rakell had the first good opportunity off a blast from between the circles that Makarov snapped up with his left glove.
To say the Swedes dictated the pace of the game would be an understatement. The Swedes held a 17-3 advantage in shots in the first and a 22-1 advantage in the second. The Russians finally managed some push to the cage in the third, outshooting the Swedes 12-11.
Makarov's best stop might have come four minutes into the third when Rickard broke in one-on-one and was stopped before crashing into the goalie. Makarov remained on the ice for about a half-minute to regain his composure before continuing.
Gustafsson didn't get as many shots as his counterpart, but was certainly up to challenge when the Russians did force the issue. Kuznetsov almost slipped one home on a right-circle whistler that Gustafsson stopped before the puck trickled behind him and just wide of the left post. Zibanejad had a good look from the left circle on the power-play with less than seven minutes on the clock but Makarov went to his knees to deny the attempt.
Makarov had started just one game -- a 31-save, 3-1 victory over Slovakia -- prior to Thursday's nod. But after his scoreless relief performance in Tuesday's 6-5 semifinal win against Canada, he got the call in the title game.
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer