Canada saw another tepid start turn into a 3-1 loss to Sweden on Sunday, leaving open the possibility that they'll see the Russians as soon as the quarter-finals.
The Canadian players offered a number of different explanations for a flat performance and none were particularly flattering — lack of preparation, not enough emotion, no accountability.
"We've got to come out and play the way we want to play at the start of the game," said forward Corey Perry, who smashed a stick in frustration during the second period. "[We've got to] show the other team that we're not going to back down, we're going to be gunning the whole game. We've just got to be prepared."
He wasn't pointing the finger at coach Craig MacTavish or his assistants, either.
Perry expects the 24 players in the dressing room to make sure they're ready for the final round-robin game against the Czech Republic on Tuesday. A loss in that one would likely set up a quarter-final date with two-time defending champion Russia, which has won 23 straight games at this event.
"We have to put a lot of accountability on ourselves to be prepared," said Perry. "It can't be the coaches getting us ready every game. It has to be the guys in that room, the guys that step on the ice, the guys that play."
Sweden dictated the terms early in Sunday's game.
Johan Harju put his team on the board just 2:35 into the first period when he raced into the Canadian zone with speed and beat Chris Mason to the blocker side. The Swedes controlled the puck for long stretches and built a 13-4 shots advantage halfway through the frame.
Canada seemed unable to muster much of a response, with no big bodychecks or signs of life to swing the momentum in their favour.
It's been a disturbing trend at this tournament.
"Definitely our starts — I think almost every single game — have been a little bit concerning," Mason said. "We've always kind of waited around and eased our way into the games instead of coming out and playing our style of hockey right away."
Added MacTavish: "We weren't good enough in a lot of the traditionally strong areas of the Canadian game."
Mason's night came to an abrupt end after surrendering two goals to Jonas Andersson just 2:54 apart early in the second period. The Swedish forward beat Mason through traffic off the rush at 1:47 before finding himself with time in front and going high to the glove side at 4:41.
MacTavish called a timeout and sent in backup Chad Johnson because he wanted to make sure the players weren't "in any way shape or form pointing fingers at [their] goalie."
Canada started to gain back some of the play late in the second period and began exerting themselves physically, with forward Steve Downie repeatedly going at Victor Hedman, his teammate in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Brooks Laich ended Jonas Gustavsson's shutout bid at 6:57 after stripping the puck off a Swedish player and beating him high with a backhand deke. But that was the only puck they would get behind him.
"Maybe I thought they would come out harder than they did," said Gustavsson. "We played pretty good. We thought they were going to come out hard so we tried to match them and we did a really good job."
These teams have faced one another in the semifinals at this tournament for four straight years, with Canada winning the last three after Sweden came out on top in 2006.
The Swedes (4-1) are now guaranteed to get a lower-ranked opponent than Canada (3-2) in the quarter-finals. But Sweden won't be surprised if it ends up facing Canada again down the road.
"I think it's going to be a different team in the playoffs," said Gustavsson. "They're going to play more aggressive and more desperate. I think it's going to be a different task to beat them in the playoffs."
Captain Ray Whitney is going to demand a better effort against the Czechs.
"I think there's urgency now," said Whitney. "The seriousness which we're going to have to play with from here on out is going to have to be raised a lot."
Russia rolls to 5th straight win
Russia won its fifth straight Sunday, cruising to a 6-1 victory over Denmark on Sunday. Pavel Datsyuk scored a hat trick and Alex Ovechkin added his fifth goal in five games.
Two-time reigning world champion Russia now has 12 points in Group E. The win vaulted the Russians into a quarter-final berth.
"We wanted to make sure that we'd respect Denmark and play organized hockey, and we did just that," Russia coach Vyachselav Bykov said. "There were a couple of minutes in the second period where we lost the discipline, but I'm happy with the result."
Russia, a record 25-time champion, also extended its unbeaten streak at the worlds to 23 games, dating back to a 2-1 overtime loss against Finland in 2007.
"We are going to win a third straight world championship and we are not going to stop," said Russia's Dmitri Kulikov.
Datsyuk, playing in his second game since joining the Russian team late, opened the scoring after 15 minutes. Ovechkin tallied a short-handed goal just before the first intermission for a 2-0 lead.
Mads Christiansen pulled one back for the Danes on the power play five minutes into the second period, but Evgeni Malkin scored from a Datsyuk feed for a 3-1 lead with six minutes to play in the second.
Datsyuk added two more goals in three minutes for a 5-1 advantage and Nikolai Kulemin finished off the scoring for Russia with seven minutes remaining.
Vasili Koshechkin made 30 saves in the Russian goal.
Denmark remained at six points with a 2-2 record in the group and still has a good chance of reaching the quarters.
Also in Group E, Belarus beat host Germany 2-1 in overtime on Alexei Kalyuzhny's goal after Marcel Muller had scored 54 seconds before the end of regulation time.
In Group F, Latvia scored five goals in the third period for a 5-0 victory over Norway.
After Lauris Darzins and Martins Cipulis scored to make it 2-0 at the eight-minute mark of the third, Janis Sprukts added two including one into an empty net before Guntis Galvins struck to round out the scoring for Latvia.
The Baltic nation improved to 1-3 in the group with three points, remaining alive in the race for the quarter-finals while Norway also has three points.
Americans shut out France
The United States secured its second straight shutout as Nick Foligno scored twice and Brandon Dubinsky had a goal and two assists in a 4-0 victory over France in the relegation round.
The Americans have six points in relegation Group G, but they have yet to secure a spot at the worlds next year.
"It's a bit disappointing that we're not playing for a medal. But we need to get back to this tournament next year and give us a chance to win a medal next year," Foligno said. "That was a good game. We really needed a win and we approached it the right way. We just grinded them down low and got our goals. We are really coming together now."
The U.S. faces Italy on Tuesday in its final relegation-group game.
Foligno opened the scoring in the fifth minute of the second period on an assist from Dubinsky, who doubled the advantage eight minutes later.
T.J. Oshie finished off France with his goal early in the third before Foligno concluded the scoring with six minutes remaining.
Florida Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen stopped all 10 shots he faced in the U.S. goal.
France remained at three points with a 1-1 record.
Italy is also 1-1 with three points in the group after a 2-1 victory over Kazakhstan, which is still looking for its first point.
Roman Starchenko gave the Kazakhs a 1-0 lead on the power play after 45 minutes. Christian Borgatello drew even two minutes later and Michael Souza scored a power-play winner with 10 minutes to play.