Canada eyeing 5th straight gold at world juniors
Defeats Russia in shootout to set up championship rematch against Sweden
The Swedes got their wish, but barely.
After advancing to the championship game of the world junior hockey championship, the Swedes didn't hide their desire to face Canada in Monday's gold-medal final. They want revenge for losing in overtime in the final a year ago.
After Sweden beat Slovakia 5-3 Saturday afternoon, Canada played Russia in the evening semifinal and treated the fans at Ottawa's Scotiabank Place to a classic game.
The Canadians took the lead three times, only to lose it each time. Then Russia sent the crowd into shock by taking a lead with 2:20 left in regulation, only to lose it with a 5.4 seconds left on the clock.
It was Jordan Eberle who sent the game into overtime and after 10 minutes of extra time failed to produce a winner, the game went to a shootout.
There was a time when you would have favoured the Russians in a shootout, but those days are long gone.
Eberle scored on a great backhand shot and goalie Dustin Tokarski redeemed himself for a couple of earlier weak goals by challenging Russia's Dimitri Kugryshev, whose shot went off the outside of the left post.
Next up was John Tavares, and Canada's big-time sniper snapped a wrist shot into the back of the net past Vadim Zhelobynyuk, creating a do-or-die situation for Pavel Chernov. But Tokarski won the battle and Canada won 6-5 to remain in the hunt for its fifth straight world championship.
"Jordan Eberle stepped up," said Canadian defenceman P.K. Subban.
Eberle called his tying goal and the one in the shootout the biggest of his career.
Head coach Pat Quinn said they were cause for celebration.
"His hands are so quick and those were not lucky goals. He buried them," said Quinn.
There's nothing quite like a shootout. It's the classic one-on-one battle, and it gets heightened importance when a berth in the gold-medal final is on the line.
"It was tense, tense on the bench," said Tavares. "You have 20,000 Canadians standing up watching everyone and you can't really watch on the bench. Guys had their heads down or were holding each other, praying for pucks to go in and pucks to stay out."
When the siren sounded to end the OT period, Subban skated over to the Canadian bench. He had his head down and was sucking air when Eberle took the first shot. And when Russia sent its first shooter over the boards, Subban found himself a new superstition.
"I had my head down and after the guy crossed the blue-line, I looked up and he missed. So when the next guy came, I did the same thing,'' he said.
While the Canadians can bask in going for gold in the national capital, they can also thank their lucky stars they are still alive.
The faster Russian forwards gave them fits and exposed the home side all night. The Canadians had trouble creating an offensive presence in the Russian end, and it was obvious that some Canadians had a hard time responding to the pressure.
"We played with our hearts and not our heads," said Quinn. "That's two nights we got by on the skin of our teeth. For us to escape like that is a thrill. I know we can play better."
The Canada-Sweden matchup is one that most people in the hockey world expected. The Swedes are a definite contender and 20 of the 22 players on the roster played a game or games in the Elite League this season.
Canada beat Sweden 4-2 in an exhibition game just before Christmas but that doesn't count one iota.
The Swedes have loads of skill and the gold-medal game has loads of potential.
The Swedes scored three goals in a span of 4:28 in the third period to erase a one-goal deficit and beat Slovakia 5-3.
Now they are taking aim at Canada.
"It would be good to beat Canada in Canada," said Swedish forward and Calgary Flames prospect Mikael Backlund.
"I want revenge from last year when we lost in sudden death [in the championship game]. We want to beat them in the final," added Magnus Svensson Paajarvi.
None of the Swedes have played in front of a crowd of 20,000, which is the number of people organizers expect on Monday night.
"The more people it is, the better," added goalie Jacob Markstrom.
How the Canadian and Swedes respond will be fun to watch.
"There is pressure on us and it is one of the things you push aside," said Eberle.