Auston Matthews scored his first goal at Air Canada Centre in a losing cause as Russia kept its World Cup of Hockey hopes alive with a wild 4-3 victory over Team North America on Monday night.
The Russians, who led 4-1 after four consecutive goals, had to stave off a two-goal comeback from the never-say-die young North Americans. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky did his bit to preserve the win.
Down 4-3, North America had a 94-second two-man advantage with some 8 1/2 minutes remaining but failed to convert despite some good pressure. A bench minor for too many men on the ice did not help the North American cause late in the game.
The game ended with 40 seconds of North American six-on-four play.
Russia (1-1-0) scored four goals in six minutes 14 seconds in a frenetic second period, prompting North America coach Todd McLellan to pull Matt Murray in favour of John Gibson with 4:17 remaining in the period. Murray faced 19 shots on the night.
Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov scored 50 seconds apart for Russia after Matthews put the North America young guns ahead in the first period. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Vladmir Tarasenko also scored in the second period.
Fellow Leaf Morgan Rielly also scored in the second for North America (1-1-0), which outshot Russia 18-10 in the period despite being outscored 4-1.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins cut the lead to 4-3 at 3:14 of the third, banging in a mid-air puck during a goal-mouth scramble on the power play. North America kept coming — and shooting.
North America outshot Russia 45-25.
It was an open, free-wheeling affair with plenty of offence. The 23-and-under North Americans, wearing their distinctive black uniforms with “beacon red” numbers, continued their impressive play.
The Russians, needing a win after losing their opener 2-1 to Sweden, seemed happy to play their part in an end-to-end affair.
Matthews opened the scoring with a tap-in at 5:14 of the first period, a goal announcement that Leaf Nation hopes to be hearing for many years to come.
Captain Connor McDavid made the play, using his speed to accelerate past Pavel Datsyuk after defenceman Colton Parayko retrieved the rebound of an Alex Ovechkin shot and sent it up the boards. As McDavid rocketed towards the Russian goal, defenceman Alexei Emelin was caught in the middle and Matthews, arriving at the other side of the net, knocked in a perfect backhand feed as Emelin desperately tried to get a stick in the way.
The normally restrained Matthews, who turned 19 on Saturday, permitted himself a smile after scoring. Within minutes, McDavid to Matthews was trending on Twitter in Canada as word spread of the pretty play between the top picks in the last two NHL drafts.
Rielly came close midway through the period, firing a low shot that Bobrovsky managed to trap between his pads.
Bobrovsky stopped Dylan Larkin on a three-on-one later in the period.
The Russians had back-to-back power plays early in the second but failed to capitalize. In fact, Bobrovsky had to stop McDavid as the second penalty expired.
But Russia began to spend some time in the North American end and Namestnikov scored off a fat Murray rebound of a Ivan Telegin shot at 9:29. Ovechkin then hit the post and Kucherov made it 2-0 with a quick one-timer from near the faceoff dot at 10:19.
Kuznetsov made it 3-1 at 13:37 on a solo end-to-end rush, tucking the puck past Rielly before beating Murray from close-range over the arm. He celebrated with a bird-like arm-flapping move before chirping the North American bench. Tarasenko then beat a screened Murray on a turnaround shot from the top of the faceoff circle at 15:43.
Riley pulled one back at 17:54, firing a shot through traffic after a blocked shot came back to him. And Bobrovsky had to make several good saves while Russia killed off a penalty as the period ended.
There was some niggle in the game with Andrei Markov landing on top of Nathan MacKinnon after a goal-mouth melee in the second period.
In other Group B play, Sweden (1-0-0) plays Finland (0-1-0) on Tuesday.
North America opened Sunday with a 4-1 win over Finland, befuddling veteran Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne — a three-time finalist for the Vezina Award — with a 43-shot barrage.
The North Americans wrap up group play against Sweden on Wednesday while Russia faces Finland on Thursday.
North America defenceman Aaron Ekblad, who led all North American skaters with 23:53 ice time Sunday, sat out Monday’s game with an upper body injury. Winnipeg Jet Jacob Trouba took his place.
Team GM Peter Chiarelli refused to comment on a report that Ekblad was suffering from concussion-like issues, telling Sportsnet between periods that the defenceman was listed as day-to-day.