2 teams haven’t met in Canada Cup/World Cup playoff since 1987 thriller
While the hockey world fell for Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, and North American young guns team, and we all would have liked to see the ride continue, Canada against Russia is a fine consolation prize.
Sidney Crosby and the juggernaut Canadians will meet Alex Ovechkin and the determined Russians in the first semifinal of the World Cup of Hockey on Saturday evening, while Sweden and Team Europe will clash in the second semi on Sunday afternoon.
Another chapter pitting the two most successful nations in hockey history never gets old, especially in late September on the 44th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series. Watching another chapter in the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry, four months after Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins got the better of Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in the second round, will be worth it.
Canada and Russia haven’t met in the playoff round of a Canada Cup/World Cup since Dale Hawerchuk took the draw in his own end, leading to the magic of Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky that resulted in Lemieux’s classic game winner in 1987.
Twenty-nine years later finds Crosby and the Canadians on a roll. They have a 13-game win streak in best-on-best hockey, dating back to a 5-3 loss against the United States in the final game of the group stage of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
Since that loss, Canada has won gold in Vancouver and again four years later in Sochi. Canada also has won back-to-back IIHF World Championships, the first of which saw Crosby travel abroad and beat Ovechkin and Russia in the final in 2015.
Meanwhile, the Russians are vying to overcome a string of embarrassments on the world hockey stage. Sure, they have won world championships as recent as 2012 and 2014, but consider this:
- At the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Russia’s high hopes were dashed with the humiliation of a 7-3 defeat by Canada in the quarter-finals.
- Four years later, on home soil and playing in front of Russian president Vladimir Putin, Ovechkin and his national team teammates suffered another early Olympic flameout, losing to Finland 3-1 in the quarter-finals.
- The Russians hoped to exact a measure of revenge on Canada at the 2015 world championship in Prague. They advanced all the way to the gold-medal final, only to be humiliated with a 6-1 loss to Crosby and Canada.
Would the following spring be different? This time, Russia was back performing at home, hoping to make up for the Sochi debacle. But again, Russia was upset in the semifinal with a 3-1 loss to Finland. Russia had to settle for bronze after throttling the United States 7-2 in the third-place game.
Canada certainly does not look like a team ready to take a fall from the top step of hockey’s podium. The Canadians outscored the Czech Republic, United States and Team Europe by a combined score of 14-3 in their three preliminary round wins.
Depth is Canada’s strength
Head coach Mike Babcock and his players have picked up where they left off in Sochi, playing a relentless fore-checking and back-checking game that has produced more than enough offence to get the job done.
They have speed, goaltending, depth and a collection of players who have plenty of experience in winning big games.
“You need to find different ways to win, and whether it’s goaltending or special teams or someone different stepping up and getting a big goal, I think that the depth that we have has allowed us to have success,” Crosby said.
Success that the Russians would like to experience, but success it doesn’t appear the Canadians are ready to relinquish.
Tim Wharnsby via CBS Sports | Photo: cbc.ca
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