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World junior championship: Read nothing into Russia making a riddle of quarter-final games

Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Kucherov (right) celebrate Russia's 59th-minute tying goal (The Canadian Press)

No one would blamed fans in Ufa for dropping their "Shibu" chant for a Russian word meaning "survive."

Or in not so many words after Russia played with fire but edged Switzerland 4-3 in a shootout in the world junior championship: remember, it's Team Russia. The world junior championship host had another shaky, near-disaster quarter-final before the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies' Nikita Kucherov — christened Kucherble by the hockey Twitterati — saved them. Kucherov tied the game on the power play, then bested goalie Melvin Nyffeler in the fifth round of the shootout.

Now the temptation is to infer vulnerability within Team Russia. Being sucked into a fight by Switzerland, a legitimately good team, was not a fluke. Switzerland had a 44-37 edge in shots on goal and it arrived in Ufa with a body of work that shows it can play with any hockey superpower. If it could have executed at all in the shootout, it would playing Sweden on Thursday instead of Russia in the semifinal (8 a.m. ET/5 a.m. PT, TSN). Russia is definitely beatable, but one shouldn't read much into this result since they always make a task of the quarter-final. They have gone to overtime four years in a row at the WJC.

2012, Calgary — Grigory Zheldakov got the sudden-victory goal for a 2-1 win over Detroit Red Wings goalie prospect Petr Mrazek and the Czech Republic. Russia never led and had to survive 74 seconds of playing 3-on-4 with Kucherov in the penalty box before he hopped out and set up Zheldakov's zinger. The next night, they defeated Canada in the semifinal.

2011, Buffalo — Yevgeny Kuznetsov presaged being the 2012 WJC's top player by leading a three-goal comeback that began inside of the five-minute mark of regulation to oust Finland 4-3. Finland flat-out seemed to have that game won before Russia awakened. Then they came from behind in the semi vs. Sweden and final against Canada.

2010, Regina — Russia lost out by the same 4-3 margin to Switzerland on an OT goal by Nino Niederreiter. Of course, Sven Andrighetto, who scored the third-period go-ahead goal and converted to continue to the shootout, wears Niederreiter's old No. 22.

It's a small sample size, of course. It's just ironic that the last time Russia had a decisive quarter-final win was in 2009 in Ottawa, which of course is remembered for Jordan Eberle scoring with 5.4 seconds left to rescue Canada in the semifinal. Russia just seems to need to fall into that burning ring of fire. Point being, they shouldn't be considered an underdog vs. Sweden on this basis of this performance, but on the basis of their all-stretch-pass attack producing sporadic results. Surviving is enough.

What to say about the Nyffeler and the Swiss losing four extra-time games in the tournament? The obvious conclusion is to salute Canadian coach Sean Simpson for helping an out-talented team become a legitimately good team, not just an overachiever from the second tier. (It's not the first or last time Simpson has had the Swiss running with the big dogs.) They weren't there, though, to get a slow clap for the moral victory. It's like their inability to seal the deal in the skills competition betrayed some failing. It's like that great indie movie that sucks you in for 80 minutes, but the ending doesn't come together. Great game, though.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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