Kuznetsov paces Russians in overtime

It’s rare when Russia doesn’t contend for a medal on hockey’s World Junior Championship stage.

The Russians failed to do that last year for just the sixth time since the tournament began in 1977 and it seemed like Finland goalie Joni Ortio would personally see to it that Russia would return home empty-handed once more.

Yevgeni Kuznetsov didn’t let that happen.

First his courageous drive to the net late in the third period gave his side a glimmer of hope. Then he gave the Russians a chance to try their luck in overtime with a sensational rush that produced another goal. He then capped the wild comeback that will extend the Finns’ non-medal streak to five years. Kuznetsov earned the right to do the Maxim Afinogenov celebratory belly flop across the HSBC Arena ice after his goal with 3:16 left in OT before an estimated 9,000 proved that Mother Russia is back — and is once again in the part of the tournament where it belongs, the semifinals.

The Russians beat Finland, 4-3, and will face Sweden Monday (3:30 p.m., NHL Network) for the right to play in the gold-medal game against either Canada or the United States.

Kuznetsov recorded two goals and an assist in the final 10:25 to save Russia from going back-to-back years without earning a medal in this championship for the first time in its history.

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