BUFFALO -- In a fitting tribute to Boxing Day in Canada, two goliaths of the 2011 World Junior Championship went toe-to-toe Sunday before a capacity crowd at HSBC Arena.
In the end, Team Canada delivered the knockout blow with three goals in the third period en route to a 6-3 victory against Russia in the first preliminary-round match of Group B for both teams.
"Both teams played whistle to whistle and I thought it took us some time to absorb the game and tighten up in some areas, but in the third period, we came out strong," Canada coach Dave Cameron said.
Three of Canada's goals came on the power play, including Ryan Johansen's game-winner early in the third period. Johansen, the fourth pick of the 2010 Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, snapped a 3-3 tie when he banged in the rebound of a Jaden Schwartz shot at 3:46 of the third period to give Canada a 4-3 lead.
Just 2:28 later, Brayden Schenn poked home another power-play goal to make it 5-3 and seal the game for Canada. Curtis Hamilton closed the scoring with a goal with 26.1 seconds left.
"We're four lines deep and had a lot of success tonight," Hamilton said. "The butterflies were there in the early going, but as the game wore on, we got more comfortable and played really well. We came out strong and it's good to get this first win out of the way."
Canada also received a pair of assists off the stick of Jaden Schwartz, and Marcus Foligno, Ryan Ellis and Erik Gudbranson also scored goals. Canada will meet the Czech Republic on Tuesday (4 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN in its second preliminary-round game.
"As the game wore on, guys were becoming more comfortable and they started making plays," Ellis said. "I remember my first time in a WJC tournament -- I was so nervous I remember not even wanting to be out there. The nerves were there, I can tell you that, especially playing a team like the Russians."
Ellis, Canada's captain, liked the energy his team had in the early stages and its ability to settle down with the game on the line.
"It's a huge win for us," he said. "Russia did a great job coming back, but scoring a couple of power-play goals in the third were the key for us."
Maxim Kitsyn, Nikita Dvurechensky and Daniil Sobchenko scored for Russia. Dmitri Orlov had a pair of assists.
"I don't want to talk too much about the Canada-Russia rivalry because it really doesn't matter," Russia coach Valeri Bragin said. "The thing is, it was a good test for us. We battled hard and showed we had some fight."
Canada goalie Olivier Roy, who appeared a bit shaky at the start, finished with a strong WJC debut. Roy, a 2009 fifth-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers, learned he would be starting this game Saturday night, and responded with 24 saves.
When asked if he was satisfied with Roy's effort, Cameron answered yes. Whether or not he gets the start against the Czech Republic on Tuesday is unknown.
Russia goalie Igor Bobkov, an Anaheim Ducks prospect, finished with 36 saves.
Both teams struck for a pair of goals in the second, with Sobchenko connecting off a rebound with his team on the power play to force a 3-3 tie at the 11:51 mark. Orlov, a Washington Capitals prospect, notched his second assist of the game on the play.
Gudbranson, taken by the Panthers with the third pick last June, had given Team Canada its second lead, 3-2, at 15:15 of the second when his blast from the point zipped past Bobkov to a thunderous ovation. His defense partner, Simon Despres, got the play started when he barreled down the slot before moving the puck to Sean Couturier in the right-wing corner. Couturier, a possible top-three selection for the 2011 Entry Draft, fed Quinton Howden at the right point and Howden slid the puck to Gudbranson.
"I think we were pretty anxious there in the first period but we gave it everything we had," Couturier said. "We kept a good focus and kept positive and it was good for us. Everyone stepped up at different times and that was key."
Canada opened a 2-1 lead 10:35 into the second on a nice bounce for Ellis. The Nashville Predators prospect fired a shot from the blue line that bounced off the boards and into the goal mouth, where it bounced off Bobkov's left skate and dribbled over the goal line.
Russia countered just 1:16 later when Dvurechensky snapped a shot from the right circle that went between Roy's pads at 11:51.
The HSBC Arena was rocking from the time Team Canada was introduced. Canadian flags and jerseys decorated the arena, which was packed wall-to-wall.
Canada certainly was fired up, too, throwing its weight around at every opportunity -- Foligno and Tyson Barrie led the hit parade with two crunching checks that pulled those in attendance out of their seats.
The feistiness probably cost them, though, when Kitsyn, a Los Angeles Kings prospect, gave Russia a 1-0 lead at the 3:57 mark. Vladimir Tarasenko, Russia's captain and a 2010 first-round pick of the St. Louis Blues, did a nice job keeping the puck in play in the Canada end. He moved the puck to Yuri Urychev, absorbing a big hit in the process, but it was Urychev's shot that deflected off Kitsyn's stick.
Canada turned on the heat in the later stages of the first, dictating much of the action in the Russian end. If not for strong play by Bobkov, Canada likely would have connected for a few more goals before the first intermission. Foligno, a Buffalo native, Sabres draft pick and son of former Sabres star Mike Foligno, finally solved Bobkov when he roofed a rebound over the fallen goalie at 17:55.
Foligno mimicked his father's famed goal celebration, leaping into the glass to celebrate in front of what could soon be his home fans. Mike Foligno spent 10 of his 15 NHL seasons celebrating goals for the Buffalo Sabres.
"It's a lot of fun out there and the goal came at a huge time," Foligno said. "The first thing I saw after I scored were those fans and I just wanted to jump into them and show my appreciation. It's a great feeling and we hope to keep it rolling.
"I guess I did get some height on that jump but I wanted to celebrate," he added. "Someday, when I'm here in Buffalo, I'll do the Mike Foligno jump."
Russia will next face Sweden at Dwyer Arena on the campus of Niagara University.