Senators’ draft pick Zibanejad scores in OT, earns world junior gold for Sweden

There may not have been a more battle-tested team in the IIHF world junior hockey championship than Sweden.

Senators’ draft pick Zibanejad scores in OT, earns world junior gold for Sweden
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 13: Jason Spezza #19 of the Ottawa Senators handles the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on April 13, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Senators defeated the Penguins 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

BY CHRIS O’LEARY, POSTMEDIA NEWS

CALGARY — There may not have been a more battle-tested team in the IIHF world junior hockey championship than Sweden.

It should be no surprise, then, that the nation outlasted Russia in a marathon of a game on Thursday to win its first gold medal at the tournament in 31 years. The Swedes downed Russia 1-0 in overtime, upending the defending tournament champs.

In its journey to gold, Sweden played in four overtime/shootout games. They beat Switzerland 4-3 in a shootout on Dec. 28; they erased a 3-0 third-period deficit against Russia on New Year’s Eve and won in overtime and they came back from a 2-0 hole to score a shootout win over Finland to land in the gold-medal game.

Then forward Mika Zibanejad ended a sensational game with an equally sensational solo effort, losing Russian goalie Andrei Makarov on a backhanded deke at 10:09, blowing the roof off of the Scotiabank Saddledome and lifting 18,722 fans to their feet.

Makarov got the start in net for the Russians and kept them in the game with a monstrous 57-save evening. The 18-year-old Saskatoon Blade picked up where he left off in the semifinal, when he came into that game for Andrei Vasilevski after Canada scored its fifth goal late in their comeback bid. Makarov was back in front of the firing squad against the Swedes, who peppered 17 shots at him in the opening period.

To the delight of the decidedly pro-Swedish crowd at the Saddledome, the Russians looked nothing like the suave, fluid team that came out of the gate against Canada. Thursday night’s Russians bumbled with the puck and were completely unable to put shots on Swedish goaltender Johan Gustafsson. The team’s first shot of the game came at 12:34, when forward Nail Yakupov guided a weak tip in Gustafsson’s direction.

The byproduct of outshooting your opponent 17-3 through 20 minutes, of course, is that the scoring chances stand heavily in your favour, which was the case with Sweden in the first period. Zibanejad and Johan Larsson both were unable to get a stick on plays that could have been finished from close range and William Karlsson had a pair of opportunities in front of the net, including a spinarama attempt on Makarov that the goalie was able to sprawl on in the crease.

Russia’s slow start morphed into a bad game in the second period, as they managed just a single shot on Gustafsson, to the 17 that Sweden put together. Despite the rink being slanted in Makarov’s direction, the goaltender turned aside everything that came his way — which was a lot.

Swedish winger Erik Thorell had a slick wraparound attempt to start the middle frame that Makarov read better than any of his teammates. The young goalie frustrated the entire Swedish roster through the middle frame, handling power-play pressure, gloving down quick shots from the slot and deflecting booming shots from the point all the same. Fans at the Saddledome threw mock cheers at Russian winger Nikita Gusev at the 11-minute mark when his clearing shot from centre ice was gloved down by Gustafsson. It was technically the only scoring chance the Russians manufactured.

The shots finally started to come in the third period for the Russians, who more than doubled their output in the period’s first six minutes. Back-and-forth play — a treat at that point in the game — made an appearance as the chances started to come on both sides. Sweden’s Rickard Rakell’s eyes grew wide with a giveaway break that resulted in his being sandwiched between Makarov and Russian D-man Grigori Zheldakov, who had coughed up the puck.

Russian captain and tournament MVP Yevgeni Kuznetsov put together his team’s first major chance of the game when he clanged a one-timer off of both posts at 9:30 on the power play.

Kuznetsov would give Gusev a golden chance at the game-winner, sliding a gorgeous backhand pass across the ice to his streaking linemate, but Gustafsson answered his biggest test of the night to that point, sliding over and getting his body in front of the shot to take the game to overtime.

Kuznetsov, who slew the Canadians with a hat trick and an assist on Tuesday night, was easily the least popular player on the ice. After taunting Canadian fans in his team’s semifinal win, he was booed every time he touched the puck against Sweden.

Edmonton Journal

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