The World Junior semi-final between the United States and Russia was everything promised by the earlier preliminary round game won by the Americans.
Both teams did what they’ve done the whole tournament, and the unique strategies gave each a chance to win.
The US played their aggressive pressuring style, using a good combination of speed and power to try and fluster the Russians. Ultimately this led to increased offensive zone time and a slight shot advantage. They earned a 3-2 lead followed by a penalty shot chance to put it away, which was turned aside.
The Russians answered as promised, displaying a resiliency that hasn’t wavered for even one minute over 6 games. They willfully entered board battles they knew they’d lose, and pushed back as best they could. Biding their time, they then pounced on the few counter attack chances to tie the game in the third period.
The one difference in this game was the futility of the usually opportunistic and dominant American power play. It was lacklustre from the start, only using the size, power, and smarts of Greenway at the low near post for about 20 seconds of their first man advantage. They did score on the second power play, but the structure and set up was unrecognizable compared to what we’ve seen in the tournament. The goal came on a rush as opposed to a pre-planned build up.
The US then had two timely chances to take a two goal lead, including a power play split between the last 9 seconds of the second period and the first 1:51 of the third. That would have provided a much needed two goal cushion to force the Russians to take more chances.
The final power play a few minutes later was easily the best one of the night but focused mostly on the one timer option from the top of the circle. This provided the turning point of the game.
With 11:00 left in the third period and on the penalty kill with pressure mounting, Russian defenceman Mikhail Sergachev heroically blocked one of those one timers and you could feel the tide change as he struggled back to the bench. This was the lift Russia needed and they soon tied the game on an out of nowhere fast break.
The final 10 minutes and overtime were much more even, with each team literally repeatedly driving right through the net with the puck. Both nets were dislodged several times, and both goalies were knocked around but held firm.
The best save of the game was from Samsonov, who made one great save and then somehow had the rebound from Joseph Anderson go off his back with 5:01 left in the first OT period.
In the end both teams deserved to win and nobody could be accused of playing for the shootout in overtime.
I really wish this had been decided another way, but a shootout it was. It was only fitting that the shootout went deep too. After going 2-2 through the first 5 shooters, the teams traded goals in round 6. In Round 7, Polunin hit the post, and Troy Terry scored his third goal on his third shot of the shootout to send the Americans through.