OTTAWA – Team Canada’s vaunted power play turned luke warm, but they still found a way to win.
The hard-working Russians held Canada to 1-for-9 with the man advantage and nearly caused an upset at the world junior hockey championship until Canada’s Jordan Eberle scored his second goal of the game with less than six seconds to play and then scored again in the shootout for a 6-5 win in the semifinals on Saturday night.
“They challenged the right people,” said Canadian coach Pat Quinn. “(Cody) Hodgson was the key for them, so John (Tavares) never got the puck on his side.
“And I don’t think Ryan (Ellis) was as sharp as he’s been, but they sent someone after him, so he didn’t have the time he had in other games. But that’s good coaching. One of our strengths was the power play and they did a god job on us.”
Canada went into the game with a remarkable 60.87 per cent success rate on the power play, with 14 goals on 23 chances. Even after a so-so game, it is still at a tournament-best 46 per cent and still a formidable weapon Canada hopes to use against Sweden in the final on Monday.
The players on the top unit are not fretting about it.
“I thought we got good opportunities, but just couldn’t capitalize,” said point man P.K. Subban. “I give them credit, their penalty kill was great, but we had opportunities and didn’t score.”
If the Russian game plan was to stay out the penalty box, it didn’t work. They took three minor penalties late in the first period and five more in the second, giving Canada two short 5-on-3 advantages.
But only Eberle’s goal with Russia down two men at 16:40 of the second period – on a shot that pinballed off a defenceman and goalie Vadim Zhelobnyuk before going in off the post – was all the power play could produce.
It helped that Angelo Esposito chipped in a shorthanded goal in the third frame.
Russian coach Sergei Nemchinov said his team used strong positioning in their own zone to keep the Canadian power play at bay, but it also helped that Canada hit some goalposts on good chances, including one by Tavares early in the third period.
“There were a little too many power-play chances for our opponents, but we played good on penalty killing,” said Nemchinov.
The Finnish referees gave Russia four power-play chances in the third, including a two-man advantage that led to Sergei Andronov’s goal. Quinn didn’t agree with all the calls, but won’t make an issue of them.
“I knew we’d get stiffed after (what happened in) the second period,” he said.
Canada looked sunk when Dmitri Klopov’s second of the game gave Russia a 5-4 lead with 2:20 left to play, but Eberle’s improbable goal, in which Tavares’ flip pass found a way past defenceman Dmitri Kulikov onto his stick, sent the game into overtime and then a shootout.
Eberle and Tavares both scored on penalty shots, while both Russians were stopped.
It was a relief for Quinn, whose team needed to overcome a 3-0 deficit to beat the United States in its final round robin game on New Year’s Eve.
“That’s two games where we got out by the skin of our teeth,” said Quinn, who added as an aside “that’s hard to do if you’re Bob Clarke” – a joking reference to the toothless former star player and executive.