QUEBEC CITY – Yes, Canada vs. Russia, classic showdown, let’s all fondly harken back to an overrated 1972 series when none of these players was even born, blah, blah, blah.
Now that we have that rather clichéd business out of the way, let’s focus on the confrontation that really matters in Sunday’s World Championship gold medal game, one that has the makings of a wonderful spectacle and one that has the potential to give us a preview to the 2010 Winter Olympics.
On the Canadian side you have the line of Ryan Getzlaf between Rick Nash and Dany Heatley, a trio that has emerged as an unstoppable force and one that can amaze with either its power or its finesse, sometimes both.
On the Russian side, you have the Washington Capitals duo of Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, playing in this tournament with teammate Sergei Fedorov between them. The Capital Punishment line for the Russians has dazzled with its ability to capitalize on its chances and use its speed and skill to create plenty of scoring opportunities.
Both sides were quick to point out that there are other aspects to their respective teams, but if the Canadian power trio and the Capital Punishment line bring their best games to the rink, it has the makings to provide a wonderful hammer (and sickle?) and tong battle.
One thing Canadian coach Ken Hitchcock said will not be in the game plan is an attempt to run Ovechkin and Semin out of the rink, even though it has worked in the past.
In the gold medal game of the 2005 World Junior Championship, the Canadian team pounded Ovechkin mercilessly and damaged his shoulder on the first shift, rendering him pretty much useless for the remainder of Canada’s 6-1 victory. The next year, Canada went after Evgeni Malkin the same way and came away 5-0 winners.
“I don’t think you can do that now because those guys are NHL-experienced guys now,” Hitchcock said. “You’re not going to push those guys out of the game. We could get hold of them before they experienced stuff like this. We pushed Fedorov and (Alexander) Mogilny out of the game in (the World Juniors) in 1988, but you can’t do that anymore. Ovechkin and Semin have been pounded on for 82 games plus playoffs and they’ve responded no problem.”
The Russians, meanwhile, have been able to move the puck effectively from their defensemen to their forwards, but they likely haven’t experienced a forecheck like the one they’ll face from Canada.
Like the Canadians, the Russians have scoring balance on all of their lines and a mobile and active defense corps. They also have a ton of confidence, having won their past two games by a combined score of 10-0.
When asked how the Russians would deal with Canada’s big line, Russian coach Slava Bykov responded by saying, “They have to think about stopping our lines, too.”
The key for both teams will be creating an environment of adversity for its opponent. Neither team has experienced much of that to this point and it will be interesting to see how they will respond. Neither team has lost a game in the tournament and Canada has trailed its opponent just once.
Canada will also have to deal with a secondary scoring force with the return of Ilya Kovalchuk to the Russian lineup after sitting out the semifinal with a suspension. Kovalchuk has six assists in the tournament, but has yet to score a goal.
The Russians have pretty much left the scoring to their top line, which has combined for 15 goals and 30 points in eight games. Ovechkin leads the team with six.
“He’s a goal hunter,” Bykov said of Kovalchuk.
Capitals defenseman Mike Green, who knows the Ovechkin-Fedorov-Semin unit better than anyone else on the Canadian team, said it will be important to let them know early that they won’t be in for an easy game and he expects the Russians to do the same to the Canadians.
“You want to create some frustration between them,” Green said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of player you are, when you have guys in your face, it’s hard to play the game. I think what we can’t do is let them create time and space where they can make plays and shoot the puck. If we can eliminate those two things, we should be fine with their line.”
True to his word, Hitchcock intends to start Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes over his own goalie Pascal Leclaire in the final. He has rotated goalies since Canada’s exhibition games and has no desire to mess with a winning formula.
To the surprise of nobody, Bykov will start Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks as the Russians attempt to win their first World Championship since 1993.
“I don’t want to put my head on the chopping block,” Bykov said.
Ken Campbell is at the World Championship in Quebec and will be filing daily reports through to the final day.
Read other news and notes from Saturday at the World Championship HERE.