QUEBEC CITY – Canada defeated Sweden 5-4 this evening at the Colisée to set up a dream gold-medal game for Sunday at 13:00. The IIHF’s 100th anniversary season will end with Canada facing Russia for the 2008 World Championship. The motherland of hockey will face its greatest international adversary for gold for the first time since the 1992 Olympics. This was Canada's 17th consecutive win at the World Championships.
"It was a very emotional game," Canada's coach, Ken Hitchcock said. "I was very impressed with the grit and determination the Swedes showed, but we're a team that has the ability to turn up the temperature. We're able to find another gear."
Ryan Getzlaf agreed: "Every time it seemed like they picked up a little momentum, some line went out there and picked us up with a hit or a goal or whatever. We’ve had some tough games, but this was the hardest game we’ve had. We expected it. It’s the semi-finals."
Incredibly, Canada has scored at least five goals in every game it has played with the exception of a 2-1 win over Norway in their first of two meetings. Today, the top line of Rick Nash-Ryan Getzlaf-Dany Heatley again led the way with three goals and five points.
Canada started the game in dominating style, hemming the Swedes in their own end for much of the first six minutes, drawing two penalties, and scoring with the man advantage at 5:35. Only Lundqvist kept the score close. Brent Burns skated over the blueline down the right side and passed to Heatley in the slot. Despite being checked, he got his stick on the puck and deflected it past Lundqvist to open the scoring with Magnus Johansson in the box.
The rest of the period belonged to Sweden, though, and then it was Pascal Leclaire who kept the score close. The Swedes, however, tied the game with just 44.9 seconds left in the period after some aggressive forechecking caught the Canadian defence scrambling. In the end, Anton Stralman moved into the slot and scooped up a loose puck, firing it over Leclaire’s shoulder to make it 1-1.
The second period was perhaps the wildest and most entertaining of the tournament so far, producing six goals, many more great scoring chances and end-to-end action.
Sweden went ahead at 2:46 of the second period on a bit of bad luck by Canada. Coming down the right wing, Mike Green drilled a hard slapshot that beat Lundqvist cleanly. It ricocheted so hard off the post that it created an odd-man advantage for the Swedes going the other way. The result was a mess of bodies in front of Leclaire, and Niclas Wallin banged the puck home from in close.
Just 72 seconds later, Getzlaf evened the score on a power play, although it was a score off the rush. He barreled down the left wing, cut hard to the net, and, being a right-handed shot, had a good angle to lift the puck over Lundqvist on the short side.
Canada took the lead at 8:31 on a defensive misplay in the Swedish end which ended with Jamal Mayers collecting a loose puck in the slot all alone. He beat Lundqvist with a great shot to the stick side to send the pro-Canadian crowd of 13,026 into a frenzy.
Stralman got his second of the game on a Swedish power play at 11:26 when his high point shot sailed over the glove of Leclaire, who was screened, to make it a 3-3 game.
Nash scored the go-ahead marker at 12:29 on a highlight reel goal that will be on You Tube in perpetuity. He took a pass from Heatley at the Swedish blueline, and with two defenders trying to check him he did what he does best – skate directly to the net. He muscled himself free and beat Lundqvist with a great shot high. It was a bit reminiscent of his final goal at last year’s World Championship in Moscow.
"We showed way too much respect for them in the beginning. It's a fantastic team with great players, but had way too many turnovers and were always a step behind them," Tony Martensson noted. "We gave them two, three goals. We can't afford that against at team like Canada. We scored four goals and that should be enough to win."
The second period ended wildly. Already down a man, Sweden took another penalty for four minutes, a high-sticking call to Jonas Frogren. Then, as Canadian defenceman Mike Green hurried up ice and the time winding down, defenceman Douglas Murray fell, giving Green a clear path to the goal. Lundqvist went down as soon as Green shot, and the puck flew over the goalie’s glove to give Canada a 5-3 lead with just 6.7 seconds left in the period.
"Pat Burns let us know the scouting report on him [Lundqvist], and it worked," Green said of the several goals scored by Canada over the glove of the Swedish goalie.
That goal spelled the end for Lundqvist, who was relieved by Mikael Tellqvist to start the third. But by then, the damage was done. Canada closed the door in the final 20 minutes, although Fredrik Warg got the game's final goal at 14:21. That was as close as Sweden got.
"He was burnt out," coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson said. "It was very hot in there and he was running out of energy."
"I was hoping we'd be in the finals, but we met a great team today," Tre Kronor Gustafsson added. "It's not just their top line. They've got three other lines that have really good players, too."
And now it is up to the two most dominant hockey powers to go at it one more time in the IIHF's centennial season. Playing in Canada for the first time at the World Championships, Canada and Russia will play for the gold. Hockey simply doesn't get better than this.