WJC2012 3 Stars: Makarov nearly unbeatable as Zibanejad becomes Sweden’s hero

CALGARY — Buzzing The Net's 3 Stars from the final day of the IIHF under-20 world hockey championship:

No. 1 star: Andrey Makarov, Russia

The ex-Maineiac played out of his mind with 57 saves to help Russia stay in the gold-medal game before Mika Zibanejad scored 10:09 into overtime to give Sweden the gold, its first in 31 years.

Sweden will get the spotlight for winning only its second world junior gold medal. Please remember what Makarov had to do in this tournament. First the 18-year-old, who not so long ago went unclaimed in the Lewiston Maineiacs dispersal draft, came in cold off the bench with 5:43 left in the semifinal game vs. Canada and stop three deflected shots to get the save. Thursday, he made it feel like Russia could pull it out despite being outshot by a bad CFL score, 39-4 through two periods, and 58-17 overall. Makarov came up with a breakaway save on NHL first-round pick Rickard Rakell in the third period, then got up and continued despite Rakell piling into him. Makarov also made a big save on Swedish captain Johan Larsson in the third period, and had a great blocker stop on Rakell early in the game that served notice that Russia coach Valeri Bragin made an inspired movie by swapping goaltenders.

No. 2 star: Mika Zibanejad, Sweden

Got to go with the man who scored the golden goal for Tre Kronor, although goalie Johan Gustafsson was good when tested (17 saves) and Oscar Klefbom and Jonas Brodin pretty much shut down tournament MVP Yevgeni Kuznetsov and his linemates.

However, the decisive moment trumps the nuts-and-bolts hockey stuff tonight. Zibanejad seized the day 10:09 into overtime by pressuring Russia's Nikita Kucherov and was off to the races, lifting a backhand over Makarov's blocker for a 1-0 Sweden win. The Ottawa Senators first-round choice had been getting second billing throughout the tournament while the Johan Larsson-Max Friberg-Johan Sundstrom line carried Sweden through the big moments. However, Zibanejad and Rickard Rakell kept Sweden going offensively throughout the night. Zibanejad had six shots on goal. If not for Makarov being so awesome, he'd be hands-down the No. 1 star.

No. 3 star: Mark Visentin, Canada

Maligned, stigmatized, scapegoated and reminded ad nauseam about his role in Canada's gold-medal game loss a year ago, Visentin finally got closure by shutting out Finland 4-0 in the bronze-medal game. The 19-year-old goalie made 27 saves to get the goose egg, including one in the third period where the puck was going in and he reached behind his back to glove it inches from the goal line. It was his best game anywhere this season, and he seemed cucumber-cool and his movements were in goal were much more efficient and economical than they were earlier in the tournament and for the Niagara IceDogs. Visentin found a groove last season upon his return from Team Canada. It reckons he might do so again.

Honourable mention: Tanner Pearson, Canada

The 19-year-old left wing was Canada's best skater in the bronze game, scoring their first goal and setting up their second to point them toward their 14th consecutive world junior medal. It was not the colour Canada wanted, of course, and their lack of jump was pretty self-evident. However, Pearson, the Ontario Hockey League scoring leader who morphed into a role player, came through offensively by tipping in a Mark Scheifele

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).

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