The way Group B shook out, Team Czech Republic was left with one option: win in regulation, or play in the relegation game. The Czechs playing in relegation is almost unthinkable, and this team certainly wasn't going to let that come to fruition. They proved this easily as they jumped out against the Russians, dominating from the very start - we're talking the shots at 12-3 in favour of the Czechs after one - and rarely giving the Russians an inch.
As for Flames prospect Rushan Rafikov, he was held completely off the scoreboard. His consecutive penalty streak was finally snapped, but he failed to get on the board as well, ultimately exiting the round robin with one goal and two assists over the four games. While he had two shots on net this game, he was on the ice for three of the four Czech goals against, and didn't factor into the Russians' lone goal at all.
Russia's only goal came on the powerplay, and in fairness to Rafikov, he was close to generating on it. He started that powerplay at the point, and after a missed shot, received the puck off an awkward pass. There, he held onto the puck just long enough to draw the Czech penalty killer out of the way before deftly passing it up to a teammate at the top of the circle. From there, the puck went straight to another Russian player right in the slot, but Czech goalie Miroslav Svoboda had it. Still, it was a gorgeous passing play initiated by the Flames prospect. The Russians scored on the very next shift.
Overall, though, there wasn't much to like about Rafikov or the Russians' game. While he was looking for offensive opportunities throughout - especially as the clock ticked down with the Russians down by two - and frequently came back just in case, the puck simply eluded him. The Russians weren't communicating well as the Czechs imposed their will on them to take second in the group.
The Czech's second goal and game winner was the end result of the Russians stuck chasing them in their own end. Top defence pairing Rafikov and Dmitri Yudin were a part of that chase that just went bad when Boston Bruins 2014 first rounder David Pastrnak found Pavel Zacha in the slot. Rafikov was in between him and Russian goalie Igor Shestyorkin, but gave him a lot of room, and Zacha had no problems sniping it to put the Czechs up 2-0.
The third goal against came right at the start of the third period. Rafikov was again the Russian defender back when Pastrnak made a perfect saucer pass to Patrik Zdrahal. The puck was saucered just over Rafikov's stick and onto Zdrahal's, giving the Czech's best player of the game a clean break to make it 3-1. Other than the goalie, Rafikov was Russia's last line of defence on the play, and Pastrnak's pass burned him perfectly.
The fourth goal was an empty netter in the game's final minute. Rafikov was out there to defend and try to keep Russia's hopes of tying the game alive. However, he once again got burned on a pass. Washington Capitals 2014 first rounder Jakub Vrana's pass went right by Rafikov, who failed to intercept, and onto Ondrej Kase's stick. Yudin fell down on the play, and Rafikov was left defending an empty net in a two-on-one position. The game pretty much over, he didn't hustle back in faint hopes of somehow denying Kase, and instead opted to play the pass as Kase shot it into the empty net to clinch the Czech Republic's second place finish.
The Czechs absolutely asserted themselves all game, and the Russians didn't look ready for them at all. Rafikov had a couple of good moments, but ultimately had difficulty communicating with his teammates, suffering a few turnovers and getting badly burned on three of the Czechs' four goals. He didn't display the physicality he brought against the Swedes either, but at the same time, the Team Russia that played Sweden to a thrilling one-goal game was not the same Team Russia that fell over against the Czechs.
The Russians had better bring their A-game for the playoffs, though. Thanks to Team Canada's awesome 5-3 victory over Team USA, the Americans clinched second place in Group A. With the Czechs' win forcing the Russians down to third place in Group B - they tied in points, but since the Czechs won the head-to-head matchup, they also have the tiebreaker - it'll be Team USA and Team Russia facing off in the playoffs.
Rafikov and the Russians will play Team USA on Friday, Jan. 2 at 11 a.m. MT on TSN in the first quarterfinal game of the 2015 World Juniors. The winner will move on to the semifinals, while the loser will lose out on all chances of a medal.
So... let's hope for a better performance, because the Americans will be tough, and as a member of Russia's first defence pairing, Rafikov may have to face a lot of projected 2015 second overall pick Jack Eichel. He'll certainly need a better defensive performance than he exhibited this game.