RUSSIA PULLS AWAY IN THIRD, WILL PLAY FOR WJAC GOLD
JASON LA ROSE
BONNYVILLE, Alta. – Ilya Nikolaev and Daniil Gutik scored power-play goals two minutes apart in the third period, breaking open a tie game and sending Russia to the gold medal game at the 2018 World Junior A Challenge with a 4-1 semifinal win over the Czech Republic on Saturday afternoon.
The Russians, in search of their first-ever gold medal, will face the winner of the Canada West-United States semifinal on Sunday (4 p.m. MT, TSN) in their third all-time appearance in the final.
Rodion Amirov scored the other two goals for Russia, while Nikolaev finished with a goal and two assists.
Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov and Czech counterpart Daniel Dvorak kept the game scoreless for much of the first period, combining for 24 saves in the opening 20 minutes.
Amirov was first onto the scoresheet, banging in a Nikolaev rebound from a sharp angle at 17:25, but Jan Stibingr hammered a point shot through traffic and past Askarov with 47 seconds left in the frame to get the game to the intermission even.
Dvorak kept it that way through 40 minutes, making 13 of his 34 stops in the second period.
But penalty trouble doomed the Czechs in the third; Nikolaev restored the Russian lead for good at 3:51, deftly redirecting a shot from Nikolai Burenov, and Gutik got his wrist shot through a maze of bodies to make it a two-goal game at 5:59.
Askarov did the rest, shutting down the Czechs and improving his tournament-leading numbers to a 1.80 goals-against average and .955 save percentage in three starts.
Amirov found the empty net with 33 seconds remaining to cap the scoring.
The Czechs, who beat the Russians for bronze a year ago, will go for back-to-back third-place finishes against the loser of the West-U.S. semifinal on Sunday afternoon (12 p.m. MT, TSN).