QUEBEC – Russia is a step closer to ending its 15-year gold medal drought at the IIHF world hockey championship.
Veteran Sergei Fedorov got the all-important opening goal as Russia used its quick-strike attack to down Finland 4-0 on Friday and advance to the final. “It seems to me that almost everything came together,” said the 38-year-old Fedorov, whose team is seeking its first world championship gold since 1993.
Danis Zaripov, Alexei Morozov and Maxim Sushinsky also scored for Russia, which avenged a 2-1 semifinal loss to the Finns at last year’s world championship in Moscow.
Evgeny Nabokov made 23 saves for his second shutout in a row after Russia blanked Switzerland 6-0 in the quarter-finals. He last allowed a goal to Romano Lemm at 18:25 of the third period of Russia’s final round robin game against the Swiss.
“The coaching staff asked us to play a bit more defensively and the guys took pride in playing back a bit, holding onto your man,” Fedorov said. “It was a team effort.”
Russia will meet Canada in Sunday’s final after the hosts edged Sweden 5-4. It’s the first time the two hockey powers have met in this tournament’s final.
It is the Russians’ first trip to the final since 2002, when they were beaten 4-3 by Slovakia in Linkoping, Sweden.
The Finns were playing a solid defensive game until 13 minutes into the first period, when the Russians jumped on their first break to get the opening goal, to the delight of the largely pro-Russian crowd at the Pepsi Colisee.
Saku Koivu was unable to handle a pass at the Russian blue-line and Fedorov jumped on the puck to start a 3-on-1 with Washington teammates Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. Four pinpoint touches later, Fedorov shot Semin’s pass into an open side behind a helpless Niklas Backstrom.
“There was a turnover and I was able to generate some speed,” said Fedorov. “I saw Semin on my right and he was anxious for the puck, so I gave it to him.
“I didn’t realize that Ovi was right there. Then I thought he would shoot, but he passed it off. I thought ‘oh-oh, I’m not used to this.’ But all of sudden it came right to me and I redirected it in. It didn’t just surprise (Finland), it surprised me.”
When asked about the Fedorov goal, Ovechkin just smiled and said “Russian hockey.”
Finland coach Doug Shedden said Koivu was victim of a bad bounce and after that, there was little his team could do.
“If you give those three gentlemen a 3-on-1, they’ll make you pay for it and they did,” he said.
A turnover produced another dazzling goal 3:44 into the second period when Sergei Zinoviev made a cross-ice pass to Andrei Markov, who then fed Zaripov for a shot into an open net.
Finland complicated its own comeback attempt in the third period by taking a pair of too many men on the ice penalties three minutes apart. During the second of them, Morozov beat Backstrom on a shot from the right circle at 12:35.
Backstrom was pulled for an extra attacker with 2:41 to play, but Shushinsky scored into the empty net at 17:58 to seal the victory.
“We had to stay away from mistakes to win this game,” said Shedden. “I thought the score could have been 0-0 going into the third period.
“But they got the first goal and then there was a bad backchecking decision on the second goal. They’re big and fast and skilled. And Nabokov makes them the whole package.”
Finland had a good chance seven minutes into the second frame, when Nabokov made a sprawling save on Mikko Koivu. Otherwise, top scoring threats Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne were kept mostly to the outside by the Russian defence.
Ovechkin said the Russians learned from their loss to Finland a year ago.
“Last year, we made some mistakes and didn’t win the gold,” he said. “We don’t want to make those mistakes again.”
The Russians were without Atlanta Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk, who served a one-game suspension for taking two game misconducts in the tournament. He was replaced by former Quebec Remparts forward Alexander Radulov, who was used sparingly.