Team Russia has almost everything to play for when it takes on Team North America tonight in its second — and most important — World Cup of Hockey tilt (8 p.m. ET, Air Canada Centre).
The Russians lost their opener 2-1 to Sweden, which put an incredible amount of weight on Monday’s contest. The World Cup group stage is of the round-robin variety, meaning that — given each group only features four teams — losing twice is a virtual death knell.
“It’s the most important day,” Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky said of tonight’s game, per the Russian Hockey Federation. “We will fight like it’s our last battle.”
If Sunday night was any indication, the Russians will need to fight.
North America absolutely overwhelmed Finland in the second of yesterday’s games, cruising to a 4-1 victory on goals from Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon.
Comprised of players aged 23 or younger, “TNA” raced out to a commanding 4-0 lead before Valterri Filppula spoiled Matt Murray‘s shutout bid with less than five minutes remaining.
North America dominated nearly every facet of the game and ended up out-shooting the Finns by a whopping 43-25 margin.
“They won every battle,” Finnish coach Lauri Marjamaki said in his postgame presser. “They skate hard. They’re so impressive. All the credit’s to them.
“They’re such a great team, and that’s it.”
Shot disparity will be something to watch tonight, especially from a Russian perspective. Head coach Oleg Znarok felt his club needed to put far more pucks on goal against Sweden — The Russians finished with 28 — and one has to think he was probably referring to the likes of Evgeny Kuznetsov (no shots on goal), Artemi Panarin (one) and Pavel Datsyuk (one).
Vladimir Tarasenko said the Russians were guilty of over-passing.
“We wanted to play beautiful hockey, but that wasn’t the right decision,” he said. “We need to do what the coach says, and take more shots.”
Given the stakes for tonight’s game, it’s expected the spotlight will once again be on Alexander Ovechkin.
The club’s captain — and, too often, the face of disappointments on the biggest stages — Ovechkin had a rough time on Sunday, taking two bad penalties while finishing with just 16:25 TOI.
He did, however, score Russia’s only goal on the night and nearly had the equalizer with less than 10 seconds remaining — only to have it waved off.
Following the game, he critiqued Russia’s style of play against the Swedes.
“We just didn’t have speed through the neutral zone,” Ovechkin said, per NHL.com. “If we had speed, we didn’t have support, so we’re trying to be one on one and we see it’s not going to work.”
Ovi and Team Russia will need to change their approach tonight.
If they don’t, their World Cup could be over.