SCOTIABANK PLACE - Canada advanced to the gold medal game versus Sweden with a wild 6-5 semi-final shootout win over Russia that will long be remembered as one of the greatest World Junior games of all time.
Canada – Russia (2-2, 1-0, 2-3, 0-0, 1-0)
Jordan Eberle and John Tavares scored for Canada in the shootout, and goalie Dustin Tokarski stopped both Russian shots. Canada blew four leads and then tied the game 5-5 on Eberle's second goal in regulation time with just 5.4 seconds left on the clock and the goalie pulled for a sixth attacker.
"It was a phenomenal ending to the third period with the tournament on the line," said Canadian defenceman PK Subban. "Eberle, the smallest guy on our team, came up with the biggest play. We're very fortunate. Our big players stepped up when they had to with time ticking down."
The thrilling win, before a sellout crowd of 19,327, puts Canada in its eighth straight gold-medal game at the IIHF World U20 Championship. It's the second consecutive such match-up against Sweden. The teams will meet at Scotiabank Place on Monday night. The host nation hopes to win its fifth straight gold to tie the all-time record set by Canada between 1993 and 1997. Sweden will be looking to win its first World Junior title since 1981.
Russia, meanwhile, will face Slovakia for bronze on Monday. "I am very proud of my team," said Russian coach Sergei Nemchinov.
On Saturday night, Canada started off with what it needed--an early goal. Some great spadework from Evander Kane deep in the Russian end and a great pass in the slot to Brett Sonne at 2:02 led to the first score when Sonne drilled a one-timer over the glove of Vadim Zhelobnyuk.
Unfazed, the Russians responded at 5:18 when Mikhail Pashnin made a nice pass to Maxim Goncharov streaking down right wing. The left defenceman, Alex Pietrangelo, fell while turning, giving Goncharov a breakaway, and he drilled a great shot over Tokarski’s glove to tie it up.
Less than two minutes later, Canada went ahead again when Patrice Cormier got the puck in the slot with his back to the goal. He turned and fired a low shot that found the net. But, even as Cormier’s goal was being announced, Canada made a bad turnover in the centre-ice area resulting in a Dmitri Klopov goal to make it 2-2.
The first ten minutes of the second period were perhaps the dullest Canada has played in this tournament. Neither side could make two consecutive passes, and the ragged play took the crowd out of the game. However, the Russians incurred five straight penalties in the middle period--Canada had one--including two brief 5-on-3 situations. The Russian penalty-killers were outstanding, though, and Canada’s dynamite power play, which had scored 18 goals in its previous 30 advantages, was ineffective for most of the period.
Jordan Eberle finally got a go-ahead power-play goal, at 16:40, when his shot from the slot trickled over the goal line after Zhelobnyuk got only a piece of it. The goal energized the fans and gave Canada a 3-2 lead heading into the third period.
The resilient Russians struck early in the third, however, thanks to another miscue at centre ice. Tyler Myers unsuccessfully swatted at the puck and Evgeni Grachev moved down the left wing and beat Tokarski with a shot between the pads to even the score at 3-3.
Angelo Esposito put Canada ahead for a fourth time on a dazzling short-handed goal. He took a pass at the Russian blue line facing centre ice, spun around while maintaining control, and made a great move before burying a backhand.
Yet again, as the goal was being announced, the Russians tied the game on a 5-on-3, Sergei Andronov sweeping a loose puck into the back side of Tokarski’s goal.
Klopov stunned the partisan crowd, getting the go-ahead goal with just 2:20 left in the third when Tokarski failed to control a harmless point shot. In the ensuing scrum, Klopov nudged the puck over the goal line to give the Russians their first lead of the game, 5-4.
"The guys were down after the goal for sure," said Kane. "But we never quit. We still knew we had a chance."
But just when it seemed the game was lost for Canada, Eberle pulled the puck out of Russian defenceman Dmitri Kulikov’s kneeling frame in front of the Russian net and roofed a backhand to tie the game with 5.4 seconds remaining in regulation.
"We were just focused on getting the puck to the net," said Tavares. "Ryan Ellis made a great play at the blueline to knock the puck down. And then 'Ebs' made a great play to pick the puck up in front. It's the kind of play you dream about as a kid, that big goal in an important game."
The 10-minute overtime, played almost whistle-free in an atmosphere of incredible tension, settled nothing.
And then it was time for the climactic shootout.
Round 1: CAN—Eberle scores on backhand deke; RUS—Kugryshev stopped by left pad save
Round 2: CAN—Tavares scores on deke and shot; RUS—Chernov stopped on shot
"Fifteen or 20 years ago, everyone would have picked the Russians to win the shootout, but that Eberle kid, his hands are so quick," said Team Canada coach Pat Quinn. "So are John's."
The 6-5 final score was reminiscent of Canada's wins over Russia in Game Eight of the 1972 Summit Series and Game Three of the 1987 Canada Cup final. Chalk this one up as another true classic.
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com)