ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With some NHL stars opting not to play,
Team Russia was considered vulnerable in the World Cup of Hockey.
The Russians sure didn't play like it against one of their old
Alexei Kovalev scored the go-ahead goal and minor-league
goaltender Illya Bryzgalov held his own against the American stars,
helping Russia beat the United States 3-1 Thursday night.
Kovalev said his country's old style of play isn't lost on the
current players whose uniforms are now red, white and blue.
"We want to play that old-style Russian hockey that we saw
10-15 years ago, which is high tempo, controlling the puck and
making plays," Kovalev said.
The Americans, meanwhile, got off to a slow start for the second
straight game and fell to 0-2 in the tournament. Team USA lost to
Canada 2-1 on Tuesday night in Montreal.
Coach Ron Wilson hinted he might make some lineup changes for
Team USA's Friday night game against Slovakia.
"You can't play on your reputation, you have to play on the
ice," Wilson said.
A handful of Russian fans, some wearing old Soviet Union
jerseys, consistently made more noise than the American crowd.
Their team gave them plenty to cheer for, outhustling an American
squad with high-profile NHL players.
Tkachuk scored Team USA's goal on a power play. The Americans
stayed close thanks to another stellar performance by goaltender
Robert Esche, who finished with 42 saves.
"Thank God Robert Esche is on top of his game," Wilson said.
Esche, who stopped 30 shots against Canada, held off the speedy
Russians for most of the game. Russia outshot the Americans 45-21.
Asked if he felt good about his individual performance, Esche
said: "Absolutely not."
"You're brought up in the States to only think about winning.
Right now, I'm 0-2," Esche said.
After a sluggish first period in which they were outshot 16-4,
the Americans came out aggressively in the second, getting six
shots in the first five minutes. But Russia tightened up
defensively and played a physical style.
Kovalev's winner, at 5:05 of the third period, was a thing of
beauty. He slipped the puck through a defender's legs, charged to
the left, waited for Esche to go down and launched the puck into
the right corner.
"The goalie kind of laid across the crease, I saw I didn't have
much room there," Kovalev said. "I made one more step and went
Kovalev also praised his unheralded goalie, Bryzgalov.
"He was unbelievable," he said. "I know there's been a lot of
talk that we don't have a good goalie, but I tell you, all three
goalies we have here work hard."
Kozlov sealed it with 1:58 remaining when he wristed the puck
from the high slot between two defenders and between Esche's pads.
In the second period, Zubrus got help from American captain
Chris Chelios on his team's first goal.
With a defender on his back, Zubrus skated around the back of
the goal and fired a shot that hit off Chelios' skate and into the
net to put Russia up 1-0.
But the Americans answered 1:24 later when Modano sent a perfect
pass from the blue line to a cutting Tkachuk, who slid the puck
under Bryzgalov's pads with 6:16 to play in the second period.