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Russia cruise past France 3-0 Czechs to battle Finland for place in final

MINSK, May 23, (AFP): Russia, seeking redemption for their Sochi Olympics failure, cruised comfortably into the world championship semi-finals with a confident 3-0 win over France in Minsk. Pittsburgh Penguins sharpshooter Yevgeni Malkin collected a goal and an assist, while goalie Sergei Bobrovski produced 16 saves to give Russia revenge for a 2-1 defeat in the last year’s championship preliminary round. “It was a good win today but we definitely could have played better and been much, much more effective in front of the (French team’s) net,” Malkin said. Russia looked completely focused from the opening face-off and their center Artyom Anisimov, who plays for the Columbus Blue Jackets, opened the score 4:21 into the match.
Malkin made it 2-0 for Russia just 52 seconds into the second period when Laurent Maunier was sinbinned, while defender Alexander Kutuzov finalised the scoring 7:36 into the third.

Despite a defeat, the French players expressed satisfaction with their performances at Minsk. “We have heart. I think the biggest heart at the tournament,” said winger Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. “When 25 guys work hard for the same goal you’re able to succeed. This was a great way to highlight French hockey going as deep as we did in this tournament.” In the semi-finals Russia will take on reigning champions Sweden who battled into the last four by beating hosts Belarus 3-2 in a tight clash. Belarus, spurred on by a capacity 15,000 home crowd, tried to stun the Swedes with their opening rush but the Scandinavians resisted stoutly and took the lead through Nicklas Danielsson who scored at 13:41 on a powerplay.

Forward Geoff Platt had the Belarus fans on their feet 5:39 into the second period when he levelled, while Alexei Yefimenko put Belarus 2-1 up at 34:14. Sweden’s rear guard Magnus Nygrean levelled at 2-2 with 2:36 left before the second break. Nashville Predators defender Mattias Ekholm was the hero of the match as he netted Sweden’s winner with 6:22 to go. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic, who won their last world title in 2010, battled back from a goal down to earn a place in the last four by beating the United States 4-3.

The New York Islanders center Brock Nelson put the Americans 1-0 up with his powerplay goal 6:54 into the match, but Czech skipper Tomas Rolinek levelled at 9:25 sending the puck into an unguarded net after a mix-up in US defence. In the second period Tomas Hertl and Roman Cervenka gave the Czechs a 3-1 lead with powerplay goals after US team skipper Justin Abdelkader was handed a 5+20min penalty for charging. Rear guard Ondrej Nemec scored the Czech team’s fourth with 3:41 remaining before the second intermission also on a powerplay.

Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson netted a late double within just 13 seconds to set up a nervous ending for the Czechs but failed to save the day for the Americans. “The turning point was obviouly when their captain took the penalty and we were able to score two goals,” said Czech manager Vladimir Ruzicka. “After that we focused on our neutral zone trap and most of the time we did that OK.” In the semis the Czechs will face Finland, seeking to win their first medal since capturing gold in Slovakia in 2011, who ousted 3-2 Olympic champions Canada. Canada dominated the play from the start, but the Finns opened the score through forward Olli Palola, who beat Canada’s goaltender Ben Scrievens at 6:14 with a slap shot on a powerplay.

In the second period Canada moved up a gear and began peppering Finland’s goalie Pekka Rinne with shots to grab a 2-1 lead through Ottawa Senators center Kyle Turris and Winnipeg Jets playmaker Mark Scheifele. But the Finns refused to surrender and levelled at 2-2 through their blueliner Juuso Hietanen, who scored just 28 sec into the third, while Iiro Pakarinen netted the winning goal with 3:08 remaining in the third period. “We’ve got a good start in the first period but in the second Canada were really strong, Finland’s coach Erkka Westerlund said. “In the third period we found the mental strength that helped us to win. We call it ‘sisu’ (in Finnish). I’m very proud of my team.”

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