Canada/Russia Challenge Game Day: 8/14/12

Canada 4 @ Russia 2

D Nikita Nesterov, RUS: 0-1-1, 0 PIM
D Artem Sergeev, RUS: 0-0-0, 0 PIM
G Andrei Vasilevski, RUS: Loss, 41 saves on 45 shots

The final game in the exhibition series took place in Halifax last night and ended in a decisive victory for Team Canada. Although Game 4 got off to a similar start to the night before with Russia taking two early leads despite finding themselves mostly hemmed in their own zone or conceding possession for changes and setting up defensively at even-strength. The Canadians finally took the lead (their first since Game 1 of the series), though, nearly midway through the second period and they never relented. Team Russia did manage to generate some quality scoring chances but could not muster a much-needed goal before the game slipped away for good late in the final period. It did help that the Russian coaching staff opted, until just a handful of minutes remained, to keep its team passive and structured in the neutral zone in an apparent attempt to conserve their young squad's energy. For much of the time they trailed, Russia seemed content to try and mount a comeback with selective counterattacks and opportunistic play and, failing that, to try and decide the series in overtime.

For the first time since Game 1, all three Lightning prospects in the tournament were in action. Nesterov, whose body of work was a mixed bag the night before, was sound in his positioning and decision-making but was, like a lot of Russians last night, forced to spend a lot of his ice time in his own end. On a night where Canada was so dominant, it's tempting to give Nesterov a pass but, aside from hitting the stat sheet again with a primary (power play) assist on Russia's second goal, it was was an unremarkable evening for him. Even Nesterov's other striking highlight, a successful defense of Huberdeau as the Canadian was heading from the corner to the back of the net looking to set up or attempt a scoring chance, was made out of desperation as he dove and just managed to strike the puck off of Huberdeau's stick before his sprawled body swept the feet swept out from under the Canadian forward. A penalty there wouldn't have been surprising but he wasn't called there or all game, unlike Game 3 where he was sent to the sin-bin twice.

Sergeev, who had assist in Game 3, missed the score sheet entirely tonight. He was victimized by a bit of bad luck on Ty Rattie's second goal (the eventual game-winner), a quick backhand attempt on a rebound that stayed in front of the net, which hit Sergeev's right skate while he was boxing out a Canadian forward to Vasilevski's right. Sergeev was also on the ice for Rattie's first goal a few minutes earlier which came off an odd-man rush. With a choppy feed, it was hard to tell whether, after dropping to one knee trying to block an initial shot by Mark Scheifele, the puck hit him, or got past him and hit a partially-screened (by Sergeev) Vasilevski, before bouncing to the side of the net to a wide-open Rattie. On a more positive note, Sergeev's mobility was on full display tonight. In particular, it was a treat to watch him gather the puck under pressure on two separate occasions (just a shift apart), once just outside and the other well inside Russia's end, and, instead of rushing a pass, skate the puck behind his own net. In both instances, he fended off a fore-checker with one hand while protecting the puck, on his backhand, with the other, before turning on the jets to move the puck up-ice and into Canada's end in nearly identical fashion.

As for Vasilevski, the Lightning's barely 18-year old goalie phenom delivered in a big way on a big stage last night. Yeah, he gave up 4 goals in regulation but it's important to keep in mind that he saw a lot of rubber last night, much more than his Canadian counterpart, fellow 2012 1st round selection, Boston's Malcolm Subban. Also, despite being in excellent position on both of the Rattie goals, out on the top of his crease for both but down and appearing to have everything low covered for the second, but was burned by the same bad breaks as Sergeev. One could nitpick and point out his rebound control could have been better in some instances but, in a game where your your goalie is peppered with shots and very active in his crease with the puck in his zone so much, less-than-perfection is more than understandable, especially when fatigue may very well have been a factor. Looking at the bigger picture, with his team running such a conservative scheme in front of him and Canada dictating the play throughout many stretches of the game (so able in no small part because Russia was nothing short of brutal at the dots, conceding possession after almost every draw), there's a good case to be made that Vasilevski was Russia's best player last night.

With top talents Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko drawing heavy attention by the Canadians, who managed to keep them in check, Andrei Sigarev did his best to take up their burden, scoring another goal after notching two in Game 3. On a night when the Russians struggled to mount much offensively beyond sporadic rushes and possessions in the Canadian end, Sigarev again managed a strong performance up front.

(Photo by Eric Dubose)