Photo Credit: Kevin Souza/USA TODAY SPORTS
Canada vs. Russia on a Saturday night. Can anything top that? Well, one could argue that a lot of things could in 2016. While the two giants comprised what used to be hockey’s greatest international rivalry, today’s game didn’t carry that vibe. In fact, it didn’t really carry much of a vibe; while the lead had a changeover that gave the illusion of competitiveness, Canada maintained a staggeringly lopsided level of control in a 5-3 win that felt even bigger.
Make no mistake, this game consisted of a few minutes of feelers followed by Canada doing Canada things. Sidney Crosby opened up the scoring just before the midway mark of the first period but making Dimitri Kulikov look silly, something that many will argue that Buffalo Sabres fans might have to get used to, but all will agree is unlikely to happen to this degree very often.
It’s another bottom-sixer-on-cocaine style play from Crosby, who we may as well just call the greatest and most skilled grinder-like player ever. A strong forecheck, takeaway, and pretty move gets him ahead of Bobrovsky and sets the tone for the night; by the end of the first period, the Canadians are up 1-0 and ahead 15-7 in the shot count.
The Russians actually don’t get a shot on net until nearly nine minutes into the second period, and it just so happens that it fell into the back of the net. Nikita Kucherov took advantage of Jay Bouwmeester’s inability to slow down Nikita Zaitsev’s clear-out and fired a wrister past a somewhat cold Carey Price, who had spent an impressively long time without a test. Six minutes after that, Ivan Telegin managed to turn a dominant sequence behind the Canadian net into a scoring chance, which was batted home by Evgeny Kuznetsov to give the Russians a very surprising lead.
Canada had no reason to be stressed, though. They were well ahead in the shot count, and it was only a matter of time before they were to start beating Sergei Bobrovsky once again. Boy, did they ever, and with frequency too. The first line, of course, was the one that went back to work.
Once again, it was another plugger’s play, as Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand turned a board hugging into a cycle, a chance, and a wide-open goal for everybody’s quickest-forgiven super pest, tying the game with two minutes to go in the middle frame. Just to be certain that everybody was awake, Marchand also started to push, shove, and mix it up with some of his opponents near the period’s buzzer, setting the tone for an epic third period. Kind of.
Again, despite the equal score, Canada was in control of this game. Just like they’ve been in every best on best game since the start of the Sochi Olympics, to the point where it’s almost getting old and stale. We know they have an abundance of talent, and we know that that talent is going to cycle until they find a scoring chance or a perimeter shot to turn into a rebound. The Canadians had more than doubled the shot counts of their opponents after 40, so barring a string of bad luck, this was their game to lose. But that wasn’t going to happen.
Canada stayed true to their ways in the third period, and it paid off. A minute and change in, we saw Crosby leave a drop pass for Marchand, who picked up his second of the night with a heavy wrist shot from long distance. A few minutes later, a point shot from Marc-Eduard Vlasic turned into an opportunistic rebound for Corey Perry, who dragged the puck around Bobrovsky to give his team insurance. A short while afterward, John Tavares put the game out of reach by carrying the puck into the offensive zone, finding his way into a dangerous area, and pulling his trigger to get his first of the tournament. From there, time was just a formality.
The two sides ate up the clock until the dying seconds, where Artemy Panarin gave the Russians one last goal. Truthfully, nobody really knows what was going on there; the clock was allowed to run out, some people thought there was interference, some people thought the refs had already blown it dead. But it wasn’t going to matter for any reason other than Carey Price’s save percentage, and after it was allowed, the two teams let the final seconds wind down.
In fact, the only time during the entire night where Canada didn’t seem in control was in the post game, where they weren’t sure whether to salute the fans or shake the hands of their opponents nor were they sure which tunnel led them to the dressing room. But the win was earned, the Russians were sent home, and Canada now has a predictable path to the finals.
With the win, Canada will take on the winner of tomorrow’s Sweden/Europe matchup. Does it matter a ton who wins? Probably not, it would be a shocker to see Canada lose a single game in a best of three, let alone two of them. Maybe Lundqvist or Halak can turn back the clock for one more night, but as long as Canada is at a level of hockey where they look like they’re toying with their once-upon-a-time super rivals, it’s hard to get emotional about it.