Impressive Russians beat Finland in world semifinal
Winners move to gold-medal game on Sunday at Quebec City
It has been 15 years since a Russian team has won the world hockey championships, and for those of a certain age who grew up watching the dominant clubs of the former Soviet Union, that comes as a bit of a shock.
On Sunday in Quebec City, the squad once known as the Big Red Machine will have the opportunity to regain the gold after beating Finland 4-0 on Friday afternoon in the semifinal. They'll face host Canada.
This was no fluke, either.
Sparked by a number of NHL stars and backstopped by San Jose's Evgeny Nabokov, the Russians played the type of disciplined, tough checking game that the Finns normally offer in contests between these two historic rivals.
Veteran Sergei Federov in the first, Danis Zaripov in the second and Alexei Morozov in the third built an insurmountable lead that Maxim Sushinskiy topped off with an empty-net goal.
Finland will meet Sweden in the bronze medal game on Saturday.
Finland shows frustration
The Russians had something to prove Friday, having lost 2-1 in last year's semi to Finland at Moscow, and it was easy to tell they were rankled as they came out ready to play.
At the other end, a travel- and play-weary Finnish squad that had gone into overtime in Halifax two days ago before beating the Americans began to get frustrated with its inability to get through the tight Russian defence.
Only veteran Teemu Selanne was able to get anything going, slipping behind the defenders on three occasions in the game only to be stopped by Nabokov.
Russia's first goal came off a turnover by Saku Koivu in the offensive end. Unable to handle a pass, Alexander Semin took off with the puck the other way, flanked by his Washington teammates Alexander Ovechkin and Federov.
They went pretty pass, pretty pass, pretty pass, great pass before Federov slid it through the open side by Niklas Backstrom.
That gave the crowd of mostly Russian supporters some great flashbacks to the Soviet era of Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov (the KLM line).
"There was a turnover and I was able to generate some speed," Federov said. "I saw Semin on my right and he was anxious for the puck, so I gave it to him.
"I didn't realize that Ovi was right there. Then I thought he would shoot, but he passed it off. I thought, 'Oh-oh, I'm not used to this.'
"But all of a sudden it came right to me and I redirected it in," he said. "It didn't just surprise [Finland]. It surprised me."
Zaripov's goal in the second was more of the same, coming off a sharp triangular tic-tac-toe started by Sergei Zinoviev, who zipped it over to Andrei Markov on the left side of the Finnish zone and then right back over to Zaripov for the 2-0 lead.
They took that lead into the third period where the Finnish discipline fell apart. The blue-and-white took consecutive too many men penalties, the second resulting in Morozov's power-play goal that salted the game away.
Ovechkin believes his club has learned from that loss to Finland a year ago.
"Last year, we made some mistakes and didn't win the gold," he said. "We don't want to make those mistakes again."
With files from Canadian Press