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Loss to Russia eliminates Japan from medal contention

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Japan’s hopes for a spot in the quarterfinals of the women’s hockey tournament were dashed with a 2-1 loss to host Russia in a preliminary-round game at Shayba Arena on Tuesday night.

The result moved both Russia and Sweden in the quarters, while Japan is relegated to the classification round.

Russia opened the scoring with 8 minutes and 21 seconds left in the first period when forward Tatyana Burina stole the puck then quickly flipped a shot past Japan goalie Nana Fujimoto from the point.

Japan had a chance to equalize with just under four minutes remaining in the period after Chiho Osawa intercepted a pass and moved in on a breakaway, but the Japan captain had her shot stopped by Russia goalie Anna Prugova.

Two minutes later, Japan looked like it had tied the game after a shot by Yuka Hirano appeared to push Prugova over the goal line, but no video review was ordered.

Aya Toko finally knotted the score 27 seconds into the final period when she fired a shot from the blue line that deflected off Yekaterina Smolentseva and went past Prugova.

Russia went back in front with a short-handed goal from forward Alexandra Vafina with 7:24 left. Vafina stole the puck against the boards in her own end from Shiori Koike then raced up the right side, before crossing in front of Fujimoto and sending a backhander into the top left corner of the net.

“I knew time was running out,” said Vafina. “I knew I just had to run and run and score. It was such a big thrill for me.”

Vafina said the victory did not come easy.

“It was such a tough game,” she stated. “Japan is a good team. We didn’t expect that. But we prepared well and saw it through. We needed to play well individually and as a team.”

Japan squandered three power-play opportunities in the third period.

“We had lots of chances to score, I was just disappointed to not make the most of them,” said Osawa.

Fujimoto was valiant in defeat, stopping a total of 36 shots, including several at point-blank range.

Prugova made 21 saves in the win.

“I feel so disappointed and I really want to disappear from this moment,” commented Toko.

Japan lost its first game to Sweden 1-0 on Sunday.

Russia beat Germany 4-1 in its opener.

Japan will play its final preliminary-round game against Germany on Thursday.