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Team Russia sees game as 'must win'

Victory vs. Team North America vital to hope of advancing after loss to Team Sweden in World Cup opener

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Team Russia was jarred out of its sleep by a fire alarm at its hotel at about 7:40 a.m. ET on Monday.

The players and staff had to exit their rooms for only a few minutes, but perhaps it was the wake-up call the team needed at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. 

At least that's the way assistant coach Harisj Vitolinsh is viewing it heading into Team Russia's preliminary-round game against Team North America at Air Canada Centre on Monday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports).

"It was just an alarm," Vitolinsh said. "Everyone got up, though, and it was a good sign for us to get up and have the team together. It was like a sign to get ready for the game."

Team Russia is searching for silver linings after opening the World Cup with a 2-1 loss to Team Sweden on Sunday. A loss to Team North America on Monday would end any realistic chance it has to earn a semifinal berth in a competitive Group B that also includes Team Finland.

Video: SWE@RUS: Ovechkin puts Russia on scoreboard in 3rd

"Everyone knows it. It's no secret," defenseman Dmitry Kulikov said after Team Russia's morning skate. "It's a must-win if we want to stay in the tournament."

Each team plays three games in the preliminary round, with the top two from each group advancing to the semifinals. Team Russia plays its final preliminary round game against Team Finland on Thursday (3 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN, TVA Sports), but that game likely would be meaningless for Team Russia if it loses in regulation to Team North America.

That the competitive portion of its World Cup could end that quickly for Team Russia is the reality of a short tournament such as this one.

"That's the way the tournament is, but I accept the challenge," Team Russia forward Evgeny Kuznetsov said. "I like that kind of Game 7."

After Russia failed to win a medal in the past three Olympics, being unable to reach the World Cup semifinals would be another blow for what once was an international hockey power. But Kuznetsov insisted that doesn't put extra pressure on Team Russia.

"As soon as you start feeling pressure, you start the panic mode," he said. "We all know we have we 154 million [people] back home and they all want to smile after the game. They want to see us happy too. All we have to do is just put the maximum effort [Monday] and make the guys happy."

Video: Markstrom, Landeskog help Sweden get past Russia

Team Russia didn't have a lot to be happy about with its play Sunday. With Team Sweden having to start goaltender Jacob Markstrom because Henrik Lundqvist was sick, Team Russia generated few quality scoring chances until the final five minutes of the third period.

"We can't commit as many turnovers in the neutral zone and have to play better offensively," right wing Nikita Kucherov said. "We have to keep the puck in their zone as much as we can and try to create some more momentum and take more shots."

Team Russia knows how dangerous Team North America can be with its youthful speed and aggressive attack. Team North America, which is comprised of 23-and-under players from the United States and Canada, had Team Finland on its heels for much of 4-1 victory on Sunday.

"It was fun to watch," Kulikov said. "Obviously in a game against Finland, knowing that their structure is one of the best in international hockey, I did not expect a blowout. But I thought North America had a really good chance of winning it, which they showed."

It won't be nearly as fun to play against Team North America if Team Russia turns the puck over as much as it did against Team Sweden.

"They're a fast team. They're all on the attack," Kulikov said. "Whenever they get a chance they fly their wingers and they drive the net. You can't hope to match the speed with some of their guys because they're a fast team. You've got to always stay ready."

Although all signs point to Sergei Bobrovsky starting in net again after he made 27 saves on Sunday, Vitolinsh would not confirm any of Team Russia's lineup. Bobrovsky had his own net for the morning skate while Semyon Varlamov and Andrei Vasilevskiy shared the other one. Bobrovsky also was the first goaltender to leave the ice.

Team North America coach Todd McLellan said Matt Murray will start in goal for the second straight game. He made 24 saves Sunday against Team Finland.

Left wing Alex Ovechkin and defensemen Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin and Nikita Zaitsev were the only Team Russia players not to stake Monday.

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