Unknown goalie Bryzgalov does job

Updated: September 3, 2004, 2:03 AM ET
Associated Press

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 rivals.

Mike Modano
Mike Modano and Keith Tkachuk celebrate Team USA's lone highlight Thursday night -- Tkachuk's second-period goal.

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.

Bryzgalov, property of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, had 20 saves, and Dainius Zubrus and Viktor Kozlov also scored in the opener for Russia, which dealt Team USA its second consecutive loss.

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 Russians were successful without high-profile players such as Sergei Fedorov, Alexei Zhamnov, Valeri Bure and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.

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.

"We're really embarrassed with the way we came out and played this hockey game," St. Louis Blues forward Keith Tkachuk said. "We've got to turn this around."

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.

Dallas Stars forward Mike Modano played for Team USA despite a lower-body injury. He assisted on Tkachuk's goal with a pretty pass, but the U.S. team was flat.

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 upstairs."

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.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press