Just 5.4 seconds from victory and a shot at a gold medal, they had their golden opportunity snatched away by a miracle goal and a shootout loss.
With two days to collect themselves, they took an early lead on Slovakia in Monday's bronze-medal game and cruised to a 5-2 victory and a third-place finish at the 2009 World Junior Championship.
Russia captain Nikita Filatov, who now has led his team in scoring at this event two straight years, scored twice, and Pavel Chernov, Maxim Goncharov and Dmitri Kugryshev added goals.
Martin Stajnoch and Tomas Tatar each had a goal and an assist, and hero goaltender Jaroslav Janus finished with 21 saves on 25 shots.
It was Filatov who spoke for his team after Saturday's devastating loss. He fought back tears and barely spoke above a whisper. About all he said was, "God was on Canada's side tonight."
He finished the tournament with 8 goals, 11 points and a smile on his face.
"We're happy," he said. "We won the bronze medal and it was a very good game by us. We're happy."
Russia coach Sergei Nemchinov described his locker room as "quiet" after Saturday's game and even still Monday morning.
He told his team, though, that Saturday, "was in the past, and we had to look in the future. Today was a new game. It's a game for a bronze medal. Every team who comes to a world championship wants to win a medal."
Filatov said his team did just enough to win Monday night; the hangover from Saturday hadn't completely gone away.
"Even yesterday was really difficult for us," he said. "All the guys were really shocked. You could see by our play tonight, it was far from perfect, sometimes even bad. But we won the game and that was the main thing for us."
While Russia won the game, it was Janus who won over the sold-out Scotiabank Place crowd. Janus stopped 111 of 122 shots in his last three games, against the U.S., Sweden and Russia, and when he was announced as one of his team's three best players for the tournament, the ovation rivaled the one received by any Canada player.
"It makes me feel great," said Janus, who will return to his Ontario Hockey League team, the Erie Otters. "Makes me play so good. … The fans are incredible. I loved it.
"It was an experience. They gave me a lot of confidence. I'm so happy how they cheered for us and for me. These World Juniors were something else."
Tatar also had a standout tournament for Slovakia. The top-rated Slovakia skater for the 2009 Entry Draft finished with 7 goals, second to Canada star John Tavares among Draft-eligible players, and his 11 points were best on his team.
Filatov scored with 32 seconds left in the second to make it 3-1, and added his second midway through the third. After Tatar scored, Kugryshev added an empty-net goal for the final margin.
While Filatov admitted his team didn't play its best game to win the bronze, there was no divine intervention necessary.
"Maybe God didn't watch this game," he said. "Maybe he's waiting for final."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.