UFA – Canada struck for two goals on a major penalty in the first, added another in the second, and finished with an empty netter in the third to beat Russia 4-1 and claim the semi-final bye from Group B.
It was a great team effort by the Canadians, and although anyone could have been awarded the black hero's cape this evening, coach Steve Spott elected to give it to Boone Jenner, playing his first game of the tournament after serving a three-game suspension incurred during an exhibiton game.
Jenner played a great two-way game and was a star penalty killer, notably in the second period. Four players scored for Canada, and captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the leading scorer, picked up three assists.
Russia will now play in the quarter-finals on January 2 against Switzerland while Canada will play the next day against the winner of the United States-Czech Republic game.
"It was a fun game with a lot of emotion and passion," said Canadian defenceman Scott Harrington. "We're pretty happy how it turned out. Right from our first line to goalie, we got the job done."
Canada drew first blood on the scoreboard soon after Russia drew first blood on the ice. Valeri Nichushkin drilled Canadian defenceman Tyler Wotherspoon into the boards from behind at 11:44, earning a five-minute major and game misconduct in the process.
Canada’s power play then went to work, firing several good shots on Andrei Makarov. Finally, Dougie Hamilton’s one-timer from the point beat the goalie high over the shoulder at 14:04. Less than two minutes later Canada extended its lead when Mark Schiefele scooped in his own rebound off to the side of the net.
"I thought our power play did a great job of capitalizing," Harrington noted. "I think we took some momentum away from the crowd."
"When you get a couple of goals early, you can calm down a bit when you know you have a little breathing room," Dougie Hamilton noted.
The crowd got the Russians back in the game, though, and the players responded. Again, within two minutes, Schiefele gave back his goal. He lost the puck in front of his own goal, and it rolled right onto Nikita Kuckerov’s stick. He wired a hard shot that beat Malcolm Subban and brought the game within reach.
Canada earned its first penalty early in the second when Nathan McKinnon was sent off for boarding, but some intense penalty killing by Boone Jenner, who was playing his first tournament game after returning from a suspension incurred during the exhibition, allowed Canada to survive.
Moments after McKinnon returned, Canada regained its two-goal lead. Makarov reached out to play a harmless puck, but in so doing pulled himself out of position. Jonathan Drouin got to the puck first and stuffed it in the back side at 6:31.
That combination of penalty kill and goal really took the lungs out of the pro-Russia crowd, and two minutes later Canada earned another power play of its own, but the Russians returned the favour by killing it off expertly.
Russia nearly got one when Kucherov was alone in front of Subban, but the goalie made a huge left-pad save to keep it a 3-1 game. That didn’t prevent MacKinnon from taking his second undisciplined penalty of the period, but the best scoring chance during the ensuing 5-on-4 came from Canada's Mark McNeill who drilled a shot off the crossbar.
Canada played the last half of the period with an intensity the Russians couldn’t match, but that only set the stage for one final period of 2012.
In the third, the Canadians did a masterful job of sitting on the lead by playing in the Russian end. They cycled endlessly, maintained puck possession, and checked their opponents tenaciously when they tried to move up ice.
"That was our game plan," Harrington said. "We've been working on the cycling in practise. Our time of possession was key."
Canada got a final goal at 19:32 into the empty Russian net. With 19.1 seconds left, Vladimir Tkachyov was awarded a penalty shot, but he missed. In fcat, the refereeing was excellent as Harry Dumas and Mikael Sjoqvist called two minors to each team in the second, none in the third, and only the very obvious hit from nehind in the first, which no doubt will be reviewed by the IIHF Disciplinary Committee.
In the end, Canada took the crowd outof the game with its strong play. "It's different for us, for sure," Harrington said of being the underdog, "but I don't think it's as bad because it's whistling, which isn't as intimidating as boos. We tried to fedd off it as well."
"We came out strong, and every part of our game was pretty solid," commented Nugent-Hopkins. "We've just been getting better as the tournament has gone along."