Russia hit the ice for their final game of the preliminary round of the 2021 World Juniors last night knowing exactly what they needed to do — beat Sweden in regulation to win the group.
After Sweden tied the game late and sent it to overtime, it became impossible for the Russians to clinch the number one spot in Group B, but a win would still give them a chance to win it. They ended up winning the game, but the work isn’t yet done.
Last night, the Russians accomplished something no other team has since 2006. For 54 consecutive games, Sweden hasn’t been beaten in the preliminary round of the World Juniors. A streak like this will likely never be broken. It will likely be one of those records you look back on in 20 years and realize just how crazy of a run it was.
You have to hand it to Sweden. With the way junior hockey works, to have new players and still be the best team in the preliminary round every year is more than impressive. It’s just another thing that the year 2020 has taken. It had to stick its twisted little claws into this one, too.
On the other side of things, you have to give all the credit in the world to the Russians for last night. With their backs against the wall looking a matchup with the Canadians or Finns straight in the eyes, they played their best game of the tournament. We still don’t really know what this Russian team is, but when they played their best opponents, they have looked great so far.
However, if there is any consolation prize for Sweden, they still have a point streak of an unreasonably long amount of games. It’s certainly not as glamourous, but they have nothing to be ashamed of. Maybe they can snap that long gold medal drought, too.
Podkolzin Is Hot
Vasily Podkolzin had his breakout game against the Austrians a couple of nights ago, and it looks like he is here to stay now. This is encouraging news for not only the Russians in this tournament but also for the Vancouver Canucks, the team that picked Podkolzin 10th overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
The box score of this game won’t wow you in terms of Podkolzin’s scoring, but he made things happen while he was on the ice. To steal a term from the Austria game takeaways article, he was the buzzsaw the Russians needed to win this game.
The connection Podkolzin and Rodion Amirov have right now is very good news for Russia as the opponents continue to get tougher at the end of this tournament. Right off the hop in this game, Amirov scored a goal that would be disallowed after review, but he and Podkolzin continued to be a thorn in Sweden’s side the entire night.
This is the Podkolzin that Russia needs to win in this tournament. This is the player that the Canucks picked 10th overall. As the games continue to get more important, I would expect to see him continue to play like this. If anything, expect him to play better and better each night.
All You Can Do Is Wait
As previously outlined, the Russians could have clinched Group B with a win in regulation last night, but since that didn’t happen, all they can do now is wait. They are waiting on the game between the USA and Sweden to find out both where they finish, and who they play.
If you want Russia to win the number one spot in Group B, your rooting interests will be very weird tonight. Here are some of the scenarios to help understand exactly what needs to happen.
With any Sweden win, Sweden will win the group and play Slovakia in the first game. If Sweden wins tonight’s game in regulation or beyond, Russia would finish second and play Germany in the quarterfinals. The Americans would then play the loser of tonight’s Canada and Finland game.
If the USA wins this game in regulation, the Americans would finish first, the Russians would finish second, and Sweden would tumble all the way to a third-place finish to play either Finland or Canada.
The only way the Russians can win the group is with a win in overtime or shootout by the Americans. See why the rooting interest is a little weird? You essentially have to cheer for the team that is losing at all times and cheer for no one to score when the game is tied.
The good news for Russia is that they have delayed playing Canada or Finland until at least the semifinals. On top of that, they are playing their best hockey of the tournament right now — very good news for a team hunting down a gold medal.
After last night, they need to take the team they play seriously. Whether it is Slovakia or Germany, they need to be taken seriously. The Germans have the ability to make you pay for your mistakes, and Slovakia played a really good game against Canada earlier in this tournament. Don’t let what happened against the Czech Republic happen again.
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Currently a journalism student at Algonquin College in Ottawa, I have always had a passion for the OHL and the Ottawa 67’s in particular. I have been attending games since I was young, and being involved with sports has always been a dream of mine. Sports writing fits perfectly into that. You can also find me talking hockey on my podcast, Hockey Prospect Report, or you can find me talking Canadian Football on my other podcast and website the 13th Man Podcast!