BUFFALO, N.Y. – After two stunning wins in less than 24 hours, Vladimir Tarasenko doesn't think his Russian team has peaked.
Maybe it just seems like it.
Tarasenko scored in regulation on Monday, and Denis Golubev scored the decisive shootout goal to lead Russia into the gold-medal game of the World Junior Championships with a 4-3 win over Sweden in the semifinals, capping a dizzying two-day run.
Golubev and Sergei Kalinin also scored in regulation, and Dmitri Shikin made 46 saves for the Russians, who will play in the championship game Wednesday against Canada, which defeated the United States 4-1 in the other semifinal game.
"The next game," Tarasenko said through a translator, "will be our best."
Stay tuned, then. Because what Russia's done the past two days will be tough to beat.
It all started on Sunday in the quarterfinals, when Russia rallied to defeat Finland in overtime by scoring two goals over the final 3:41 to tie the game. And then, against Sweden, Kalinin tied it with 1:27 left in regulation when he jammed home a loose puck in front.
"We're at a good stage," Golubev said through a translator.
He should know. After all, fueled by the late tally to tie the game Monday, Golubev helped eliminate Sweden with a nifty deke before slipping the puck between Swedish goalie Robin Lehner's legs in the shootout.
"We talked before this tournament that we need to win badly because Russia hasn't won for seven years," Golubev said. "And that's important."
They're playing like it.
Russia won three gold medals in a five-year span starting in 1999 — including two straight golds in 2002 and 2003 — but slipped to sixth last year. They've medaled in 15 of the past 19 years, and in all but six years since the tourney began in 1977.
Adam Larsson had a goal and two assists, Calle Jarnkrok and Patrick Cehlin also scored, and Lehner made 28 saves for Sweden, which earned a bye after going undefeated in the preliminary round. Sweden will play the U.S. for the bronze medal.
"They were hungrier than us," Cehlin said. "It's too bad we didn't do our best game when we're supposed to do it."
Sweden won bronze last year and silver the previous two years, but was denied once again in its bid to win just its second gold medal in this tournament.
"We didn't play well today and didn't get into the regular flow," Sweden coach Roger Ronnberg said. "The Russians had a better ending."
The Swedes defeated the Russians 2-0 in the preliminary round.
Sweden was once again without one of its top players, Gabriel Landeskog, who has played just one game after sustaining a high ankle sprain in one of his Ontario Hockey League games.
The Swedes tied it at 2-2 just 80 seconds into the third when Jarnkrok redirected Jesper Fasth's pass from the left circle, and took a 3-2 lead on Cehlin's power-play goal with 3:19 left in regulation.
Up by a goal after the first, Russia pushed its lead to 2-0 when Golubev scored 7:09 into the second. Stanislav Bocharov outraced a Swedish defenseman to the puck behind the net before feeding a wide-open Golubev in front. Golubev then deked Lehner before shoving the puck in. The goal was somewhat controversial because it appeared that icing was being called on the play.
"(The linesman) had his arm up and screamed icing," Lehner said. "If he didn't have his arm up, I would've played it. He called it off as soon as it crossed the line."
Larsson cut the deficit in half with a power-play goal with 2:01 remaining in the second with a slap shot from the top of the left circle.
Russia struck first and took a 1-0 lead when Tarasenko scored 6:37 into the first period. He banked the puck in off Lehner's right leg from a sharp angle.