The world’s best player continued to dominate this international tournament. Sidney Crosby’s three points helped lead Canada past Russia 5-3 and into the World Cup Finals. At the start, he was put on a line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. They have been by far the best line in the winner take all event in Toronto.
The cohesive trio were at it again combining on three of Canada’s five goals. Crosby scored his third of the tournament by absolutely undressing the Russian defense. After a clean strip of the puck, he made a world class deke on Sergei Bobrovsky before whistling a backhand top shelf for the game’s first goal.
It was all Canada in a lopsided first period that saw them control every facet. Remarkable puck possession along with superb checking kept the counter attacking skilled Russians at bay. Alexander Ovechkin had no time or space to do anything. In fact, he didn’t even attempt a shot until the third. He was so well checked that the Caps’ superstar was rendered useless. It didn’t help that the Russian coaching staff didn’t force feed him. An oddity that has angered players in past tournaments.
Bobrovsky was phenomenal at turning away glorious Canadian chances time and again. He finished with 42 saves. Many of the spectacular variety. For two periods, the former Vezina winner who is used to seeing plenty of shots on the Blue Jackets gave his country a chance to pull the upset. He committed highway robbery several times with his best save coming on Marchand with the game tied early in the third.
At one point, it was so lopsided that it was hard to fathom how Russia had come back to tie the contest halfway through the second. Nikita Kucherov exploited a Canadian pinch off a defensive draw and exploded towards the net on a two-on-one, making no mistake beating Carey Price far post. The shots were 26-8 in favor of Canada.
Unlike Team USA, Russia doesn’t need a lot of chances to score. Finally awake, they actually went ahead on a great passing play started behind the net by former NHLer Evgeny Dadonov. The ex-Panther who plays in the KHL slipped a Ryan O’Reilly check and spun off to find Ivan Telegin for a one-timer in the slot that was deflected home by Evgeny Kuznetsov. That made it 2-1 with 3:36 left in the second.
Plenty of time for the Crosby line to strike back. It was again a relentless Crosby who made the play. After centering from behind the net for Bergeron, he stole the puck from Andrei Markov and in one motion dished across for a wide open Marchand for an easy finish 1:12 later to draw Canada even.
Undeterred, Russia nearly went back ahead in the closing seconds. Vladimir Tarasenko threw a puck from the side off Crosby and dangerously close to the goal with 8.8 seconds remaining. But it didn’t go in. Tempers flared after the buzzer with a scrum that had Marchand and Evgeni Malkin coming together.
At the start of the third, Canada sent out its top line after Jonathan Toews’ unit neutralized Ovechkin. It didn’t take long for them to expose Russia. First, a on rushing Bergeron had Marchand for a lay-up. But a sprawling Bobrovsky reached out with his glove extended for a Statue of Liberty highlight reel save. The stop of the game. But after getting out of their zone, here came Crosby dropping one off for Marchand, whose shot sneaked past Bobrovsky’s glove 1:16 into the third. It was one he should’ve had. But who could blame him?
On a broken play in front, Corey Perry was able to get to the loose change in front and send a rebound upstairs with Bobrovsky down and out- increasing to 4-2. Sharks’ teammates Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic drew the helpers.
Islanders’ captain John Tavares finally got a goal. He had been dangerous all night. This time on a nice transition, he took a Getzlaf drop and sniped upstairs thru a screen to put the game away.
As for Ovechkin, he was only able to get one shot on net. The Canadian defense is so good that there’s virtually no room. Between Norris winner Drew Doughty, Vlasic, Jay Bouwmeester, Shea Weber, Alex Pietrangelo and Brent Burns, they play perfectly with plenty of help from two-way forwards such as Bergeron, Crosby, Marchand and Toews.
To their credit, Russia didn’t give up. They played till the end with Artemi Panarin getting credit for the game’s final tally at 19:51 on what looked like a hand pass. It wasn’t reviewable. So, the final bookkeeping was Canada 5, Russia 3.
Notes: Pavel Datsyuk was a scratch due to an injury which hindered his skating. Sad that North Americans couldn’t see the Russian great one final time before he returns home to the KHL. … Russia did finish with 34 shots at least forcing Price to make 31 stops. … Russian tandem Markov and Alexei Emelin had rough nights each on for three goals against. Dmitry Orlov was their best defenseman ringing a loud shot off the crossbar. … The second semifinal is at 1 PM tomorrow with Team Europe taking on Sweden. I’m picking the upset. Just got a hunch Europe will prevail.