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Team Russia

Sergei Bobrovsky bails out Team Russia

Coach Oleg Znarok's confidence in goalie pays off in big win against Team North America

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- With Team Russia's fate in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 on the line, coach Oleg Znarok said he "did not hesitate" to start Sergei Bobrovsky in net.

"We're always sure with Bobrovsky," Znarok said. "We trust him."

Znarok's faith in Bobrovsky proved to be justified in a 4-3 win against Team North America at Air Canada Centre on Monday. The 27-year-old goaltender made 43 saves, including 18 in a lopsided third period, to help Team Russia hold on and even its record at 1-1-0 in Group B play.

After losing 2-1 to Team Sweden on Sunday, Team Russia knew it needed a win against the young guns from Team North America to keep its hopes of advancing to the semifinals alive.

"We were desperate, so the guys made huge blocked shots, the defensemen [and] the forwards," Bobrovsky said. "We were as one fist and it was fun to watch and fun to play shoulder to shoulder."

But Bobrovsky's shoulders carried much of the load in a game when Team Russia was outshot 46-25, including 19-4 in the third period. Considering the stakes, Team Russia couldn't have asked for more from him.

Video: RUS@NAT: Bobrovsky denies Larkin with nice pad save

"He was unbelievable," Team Russia captain Alex Ovechkin said. "He wants to keep us in the game. He wants to give us a chance."

Bobrovsky was hoping Znarok would stick with him after he made 27 saves against Team Sweden. He learned later Sunday that he would get his wish.

"I said I love to play and it was a huge challenge for us," he said. "I love those games."

Despite the heavy workload and playing on consecutive days, Bobrovsky felt pretty good physically afterward.

"Yes, I feel a little bit tired, but, at the same time, I feel really good about myself and about my team," he said.

Team North America has been the talk of the tournament so far with its collection of highly skilled players age 23 or under. At times, they came at Bobrovsky in waves with their youthful speed.

"We knew they had lots of speed, especially up front," Bobrovsky said. "So, we tried to keep it simple and put the puck deep and settle them down."

Connor McDavid set up Auston Mathews on a 2-on-1 for a goal 5:14 into the game, and then had a chance to make it 2-0 on a breakaway 5:23 into the second period. Bobrovsky stayed with him to make a right-pad save and keep Team Russia within a goal.

"We were desperate tonight, so every moment, every shot I was focused, and that was the most important shot of my life," Bobrovsky said of his save on McDavid.

The tide turned in Team Russia's favor shortly after that save. Vladislav Namestnikov backhanded the rebound of an Ivan Telegin shot in off the right post 9:29 into the second period to begin a run of four consecutive goals in 6:14 for Team Russia.

After that, Team North America resumed its relentless attack. Morgan Rielly's goal from the top of the left circle with 2:04 remaining in the second period cut Team Russia's lead to 4-2 and set up a stressful third.

Then Ryan Nugent-Hopkins batted in a shot from in front for a power-play goal 3:01 into the third period that brought Team North America within one. That was the last shot it would put past Bobrovsky, despite having a 5-on-3 power play for 1:34 later in the third.

Bobrovsky made saves from close range on McDavid and Mark Scheifele during the two-man advantage. Bobrovsky also got some help from his left post when Team North America defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere clanked a right-point shot of it with 14 seconds remaining.

Video: RUS@NAT: Tarasenko spins and scores through a screen

Bobrovsky had to make two saves on Gostisbehere after that to secure the victory.

"He's super professional," Evgeny Kuznetsov said of Bobrovsky. "I feel safe with all three [Team Russia] goalies. They all can play. That's probably my best group of goalies. I know [Washington Capitals teammate Braden] Holtby is the best, but I feel super, super, super confident in them."

Kuznetsov also had a hand in the victory, scoring the third goal in that second period surge when Team Russia showed it too has some talented young forwards. All four Team Russia goal-scorers -- Namestnikov (23), Nikita Kucherov (23), Kuznetsov (24) and Vladimir Tarasenko (24) -- are younger than 25.

Team Russia also demonstrated its grit with Telegin twice sacrificing his body to block shots before limping off the ice.

Fortunately for Team Russia, it has the next two days off to rest and regroup before its final preliminary-round game against Team Finland on Thursday (3 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN, TVA Sports). Thanks to Bobrovsky, it is in good position now to advance to the semifinals if it can win that game.

"After the game yesterday, [Znarok] told us this is the beginning of the tournament," Ovechkin said. "We have to win one and we'll see what's going to happen in the next one. We have two days off now. Guys have bruises. That's going to help us to recover and get better for a big game."

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