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Zherdev two wins away from World gold

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Rangers forward Nikolai Zherdev is moving on to the World Championship semifinals in Bern, Switzerland.

Nikolai Zherdev
v's Russian team held off Belarus 4-3 on Wednesday at PostFinance Arena in Bern, where the Blueshirts played two preseason exhibition games before opening the 2008-09 regular season in Prague.

Tied 3-3 after two periods, Russia nailed down the victory when Atlanta Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk scored at 7:22 of the third off an assist from former NHL player Alexei Morozov, the Team Russia captain.

Russia will face Team USA in the semifinals on Friday. The U.S. team beat Finland 3-2 on Wednesday to set up a showdown with Russia. The other semifinal will see Canada face Sweden. The Canadians and Swedes won quarterfinal games on Thursday.

The Russians, who outshot Belarus 32-22, are a perfect 9-0-0 in the tournament and have won three games since Zherdev joined the team late last week after the Rangers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Zherdev finished Wednesday's game with two shots on goal -- both taken in the first period -- and a total of 10:23 of ice time. He was on the ice for linemate Alexander Frolov's goal at 17:01 of the second period, which gave Russia a brief 3-2 lead before Belarus tied it on a 5-on-3 goal by NHL defenseman Ruslan Salei.

After a scoreless first period, the teams combined for six goals in the middle frame. Belarus took a 1-0 lead on a power play at 2:39 of the second period, but the Russians answered when Kovalchuk set up Vitali Proshkin just under three minutes later. Belarus again took the lead at 13:52 of the second period, but the Russians came back to tie it up with 3:21 to go in the period before Frolov made it 3-2 just 22 seconds later.

While Wednesday's win was a big one for Zherdev, it spelled the end of the tournament for Rangers prospect Vladimir Denisov.

The Hartford Wolf Pack defenseman, who signed with the Rangers as a free agent last year, saw 24:29 of ice time for Belarus. Only Salei and Mikhail Grabovski, both NHL defensemen, played more minutes than Denisov, who was on the ice for the goal that gave Belarus a 2-1 lead and had one shot on goal in the third period.
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