For a few moments Saturday night, Canada's hockey fans — which is most of its population — held their collective breath and organizers of the World Cup of Hockey began to envision empty seats at Air Canada Centre for a final that wouldn't feature the home country.That scary scenario became stunningly possible in the second period of Canada's semifinal game against Russia. Canada had dominated the play but relinquished the lead, triggering waves of anxiety that could be felt from Sidney Crosby and Brad Marchand's home province of Nova Scotia to all points north and west in this vast nation.
"I know," defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said resignedly. "Somebody gets the lead on Canada and everybody's starting to panic."
Everybody, maybe, except the players who wore the stylized maple leaf logo on the front of their jerseys.
Crosby made clever, did-you-see-that passes to set up Marchand for the tying goal late in the second period and the go-ahead goal early in the third as Canada overcame the gallant efforts of Russian goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and earned a 5-3 victory to secure a berth in the tournament final. Canada will face the winner of Sunday's semifinal between Sweden and surprising Team Europe in a best-of-three finale starting Tuesday at Air Canada Centre.
"I don't know there's much of a difference," Canada and Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said when asked if he preferred one opponent over the other. "They're both similar. They're good 200-foot hockey teams with good goalies."
But Canada (4-0-0) has been better than anyone. Its players made prolific Russian winger Alex Ovechkin disappear Saturday — he had only one shot on goal and was never a presence — while remaining poised, patient and confident and relying on the unity forged during Olympic triumphs in 2010 and 2014. Ovechkin, who had only one goal in four tournament games, spoke quietly afterward, clearly disappointed in his own and his team's performance. "I tried my best," he said. "We were all on the same page."
But that wasn't nearly good enough to upset Canada, whose bottomless well of talent is its best asset. "That's one benefit we've had for a long time now, the depth, that any line can score at any time and everybody's buying in defensively," said Ducks and Canada center Ryan
Getzlaf. "As long as our systems stay tight and we keep getting better, we're going to be all right."
Marchand brought Canada even at 2-2 at 17:36 of the second period, just 72 seconds after Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Washington Capitals and Russia had put his homeland ahead, 2-1. Crosby found Marchand for a quick shot from the edge of the left circle on that play; on the go-ahead goal, Crosby set him up and Marchand beat Bobrovsky to the far side at 1:16 of the third period. Ducks right wing Corey Perry made it 4-2 when he pulled a rebound between his legs and then into better shooting position before slipping it past Bobrovsky at 5:48. John Tavares scored through a screen at 9:22 for a 5-2 lead, but Artemi Panarin got one back for Russia with nine seconds left in the third period.
It was a seven-point night for the line of Pittsburgh Penguins captain Crosby (who kicked off the scoring by forcing a turnover and lifting a backhand beyond Bobrovsky in the first period and also had two assists), pesky Boston Bruins forward Marchand (two goals) and two-way Bruins standout Patrice Bergeron (two assists). "They're world-class players and they step up at the right time," Perry said.
Crosby pointed to Bergeron's tying goal as a momentum-changer. "That was big just because we felt we were controlling the play and doing a lot of good things and we were down, 2-1," he said. "So to be able to get that one back pretty quickly, go into the third even, and especially the way we were playing, we believed we were going to score."