COLOGNE – Goaltender Semyon Varlamov didn’t show any rust for someone who hadn’t played in two weeks as Russia beats Belarus 3-1 for its third straight win at the IIHF World Championship.
The last time the hockey world saw Varlamov was after the Montreal Canadiens eliminated him and his Washington teammates in the Stanley Cup playoffs at the end of last month. And it was a bit of a surprise that Russia coach Vyacheslav Bykov waited until the final Preliminary Round game before he gave his only NHL goaltender a start at the 2010 Worlds.
But Varlamov was more than equal to the task as Russia, the two-time defending world champion, clinched top spot in Group A. Russia will now face Germany on Saturday in the Qualification Round.
"It felt good to play and get the win," he said.
Sergei Mozyakin, Alexander Ovechkin and Artyom Anisimov scored for Russia.
Varlamov didn’t have as busy a game as Andrei Mezin in the Belarus net and the Russian netminder was tested only a couple of times.
Russia was ahead 1-0 in the second period and had two players in the penalty box when Varlamov stopped a point shot and then frustrated Mikhail Stefanovich when the Belarus forward tried to swat the rebound into the net for his best save.
Varlamov lost his shutout bid at 7:30 of the third period when Alexei Kalyuzhny lifted a rebound over the goaltender’s glove into the top left corner from the lip of the crease. Then with 6:23 left in the game, Varlamov kicked out a shot on a two-on-one break sparked by sloppy passing by the Russians in the Belarus end of the arena.
The Russians opened the scoring with a power play goal in the first period.
Mezin made a brilliant pad save on a shot by Ilya Kovalchuk and the Russians kept the pressure on their opponents. Maxim Sushinsky had the puck on his stick in the faceoff circle to Mezin’s left and he sent a pass to Mozyakin, who was parked off the right post, and he swept the puck into the net at 10:45 of the first period.
Ovechkin scored his third goal in as many games at 12:21 of the second period to double the margin. Oveckhin was at the top of the faceoff circle to Mezin’s right when he whipped a wrist shot for a goal.
Then less than two minutes later, Mozyakin took shot from close in and he ended up bumping Mezin on the follow-through, knocking the goalie over. Anisimov was there for the rebound and he didn’t miss the wide open net at 14:03 for a 3-0 lead.
Russian forward Sergei Fedorov said the Russians can get better.
"It's not perfect, and it never will be, especially in a tournament like this. But it's positive and we've got the job done in the three first games. There's no time to relax, we will face a lot of good teams and we have to concentrate on doing our things much better every day."
Russia and Belarus both secured their berth in the Qualification Round on Tuesday. The third team from Group A will be either Slovakia or Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan needs to defeat the Slovaks by three or more goals to reach the Qualification Round and to send Slovakia into Relegation Round play.
"We're already getting ready for our next game," said Belarus forward Mikhail Grabovski. "We'll have to work hard and use our speed."
As for the Russians, Grabovski said: "We did our best and they have the best player in the world (i.e. Ovechkin)."