Coming into Monday night, Team Russia needed to beat Team North America to stay alive in the 2016 World Cup. With Russia coming off a dull 2-1 loss to Team Sweden on Sunday, facing the speedy, streaking and skillful North American’s looked to be a tall task.
After North America’s Auston Matthews scored to put the kids on the board early, Russia knew it had to strike back and strike back hard. They ended up scoring four goals which lead to John Gibson entering the game and ultimately Team Russia’s first win of the tournament.
Although Team North America battled their way back nearly to tie the game in the final minutes, Sergei Bobrovsky and co. were able to shut the door. It was clear after the game that the Russian’s gained some much-needed confidence in their game and they’re going to need it going forward as the stretch run for the semifinals begins.
Now that North America beat Team Sweden in overtime Wednesday 4-3, Russia needs to win in regulation to secure their spot in the semifinal. If the game drags to overtime, they’ll be out regardless of the score.
The main obstacle in Team Russia’s path to the semifinals is Team Finland. Finland lost 2-0 against Team Sweden on Tuesday which ultimately eliminated them from the tournament. If Team Russia wants a chance at advancing to the semifinals on the weekend, they’ll have to put Team Finland away on Thursday in regulation time.
Finland knows their tournament is over, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to lay down for Russia. Finland is a young program that is looking to go out on a high note. On the other hand, it’s a perfect game for Russia to gain even more confidence. After beating Team North America it was clear they were happy with the win, but not totally satisfied with their performance. They know they can play better, and a game against the young Fins could give them that extra boost they need for the semifinals.
As I talked about in a previous article, the Russian defense remains an issue. After going up 4-1 on Team North America, McDavid, and the kids were allowed to come back in the game to the point where they were a post away from tying the game.
The main reason those pucks didn’t go in at the end of the game was the performance of Sergei Bobrovsky. Unfortunately for Team Russia, if Bobrovsky doesn’t have that type of game, they are probably sitting at 0-2 and on the outside looking in. If the Russians want to continue their success, they need to improve their defending; it’s a broken record, but it’s a fact.
Markov is 37 and using him selectively would be the Russians safest play. To eat up some of those minutes, Zaitsev could take on a bigger role. Again, there are many things that the Russians can do to mitigate the effect their team defense has on a game and I think it’s their biggest key to winning. No team can rely on a goaltender to act as the entire team defense and expect to be successful.
Keep Pouring It On
The Russians quickly figured out that the more you score, the better chance you have to win in this tournament. They missed a golden opportunity on Sunday when Henrik Lundqvist was held out of their first game due to illness. They only managed to score one goal against Jacob Markstrom and that stellar Team Sweden defense.
Against North America, they knew they had to score to win and they did just that when they potted four goals which eventually was enough for the victory. Against Team Finland, however, it’s even more crucial. They’re lucky they’re in a position where goal differential doesn’t come into effect but it’s always nice when you can convincingly put your opponent away on the score sheet.
That should play perfectly to what the Russians are built for. With the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Artemi Panarin, Vladimir Tarasenko and so many others, Team Russia can score. If they want to advance, their offense will need to be working on Thursday afternoon.
What to Expect
Team Russia knows they have challenges ahead. They know they need to beat Finland in regulation to advance. However, Russia feels its time for them to finally break through and put an end to their medal drought. With Sergei Bobrovsky and Alex Ovechkin leading the way, the time may be now for the dark horse Russians.
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Nick Guido is a Montreal Canadiens Contributor for The Hockey Writers. You can Follow him on Twitter @nickguidoTHW for his articles, opinions and general Habs talk.