Lecavalier lifts Canada into World Cup final
Vincent Lecavalier scored in overtime to lead Canada past the Czech Republic and into the 2004 World Cup of Hockey final.
Lecavalier's goal at 3:45 of the extra period gave Canada a 4-3 triumph over the Czechs in Saturday's semifinal at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Canada advances to face Finland in the World Cup final Tuesday in Toronto (CBC, 7 p.m. ET). The Finns upset the defending-champion Americans 2-1 in the other semifinal.
Lecavalier, Saturday's hero, wasn't originally named to the Canadian World Cup squad. He stepped in as an injury replacement for his boyhood idol Steve Yzerman.
"Playing on this team with all these guys, it's just the greatest feeling," Lecavalier told CBC Sports moments after his game-winner.
Lecavalier missed his initial scoring-chance in overtime when he corralled a rebound in front of Czech netminder Tomas Vokoun. However, Lecavalier capitalized on his second chance, firing a bad-angled shot into the Czech goal.
"I thought I lost [the puck], but I took another shot at a wide angle," said Lecavalier. "I couldn't really see it, but it went in."
Eric Brewer, Mario Lemieux and Kris Draper also scored for Canada. Petr Cajanek, Martin Havlat and Patrik Elias replied for the Czechs.
Canadian goaltender Roberto Luongo triumphed in his first start of the tournament. The Florida Panthers netminder was forced into action after regular starter Martin Brodeur hurt his left wrist in Canada's quarter-final triumph over Slovakia on Wednesday.
Luongo finished with 37 saves Saturday and made a handful of key stops in the closing moments of the third period and overtime.
"I wanted to try and stay focused," said Luongo. "I knew I was playing well in practice.
"I just tried to keep my team in the game as much as I [could]."
It's unclear if Brodeur will be available for Tuesday's final. The New Jersey Devils goalie told CBC's Scott Oake he hopes to be play but isn't sure if he'll be ready.
After a scoreless first period, Saturday's semifinal really opened up in the second period.
Brewer put Canada ahead at 11:15 of the second with his first goal of the tournament. The Canadian defenceman charged deep into the Czech zone and crashed the net before tucking a Draper pass through Vokoun's legs.
Just over a minute later, Czech defencmean Jiri Fischer dumped a streaking Lecavalier at the blue-line for the game's first penalty.
Canada capitalized on the opportunity, as Lemieux tallied his first World Cup marker following a mad scramble in front of the Czech net. Vokoun made two initial saves off Lecavalier and Brad Richards, but Lemieux fired the next rebound past Vokoun at 14:25.
The Czechs needed only 42 seconds to slash the Canadian lead in half. Cajanek scored on an awkward shot that appeared to be a pass attempt. The puck caromed off Luongo's right skate and into the back of the net.
A Lecavalier penalty in the third period led to the Czech equalizer.
Czech defencman Tomas Kaberle fired a point-shot that Luongo kicked aside, but Havlat pounced on the rebound and buried the puck into the Canadian goal at 7:21 of the third.
Draper gave Canada its first sign of life in the third when he beat Vokoun on a slap shot at 13:47 to give his country a 3-2 advantage. However, Elias replied just six seconds later to even the score and send the game to overtime.
Lecavalier then ended matters with his winner just 3:25 into the extra frame, giving Canada a victory in its most important game against the Czechs since a semifinal loss at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.