Canada is one game away from being a three-peat champion at the IIHF World Championship. The team just needed a third-period rally against the rival Russians for a chance to play for the gold medal.
The Canadians scored four unanswered goals in the final frame, including three in the last five minutes, on Saturday to beat Team Russia 4-2 in the semifinals at LANXESS Arena in Cologne, Germany. Canada will play Sweden in the gold-medal game on Sunday in Cologne.
Things looked bleak for Team Canada entering the third period, after Russia scored twice in a 2:34 span midway through the middle stanza. Evgeny Kuznetsov (Washington Capitals) and Nikita Gusev put the goals past Calvin Pickard, but those would be the only two pucks to get by the Colorado Avalanche goaltender.
Pickard finished with 26 saves and benefited from a strong offensive and defensive push from his teammates in the third. Canada outshot Russia 38-28 in the contest and 19-5 in the last stanza.
"It was exciting," Pickard told the IIHF's official website. "Our backs were against the wall going into the third period, and we just regrouped and came out and played our game. Everybody in the building saw it. It was a pretty good clinic, for sure."
The Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele began the comeback with a power-play goal 17 seconds into the third period, but Canada couldn't tie the outing until the game clock had less than five minutes left.
Nathan MacKinnon was the player from Canada to knot the contest 2-2 at 15:07 of the frame. The Avalanche forward lost the puck briefly while stickhandling through the slot, but he regained control and swatted a low shot past netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay Lightning).
MacKinnon also assisted on Schiefele's goal and now has 14 points (six goals and eight assists), tied for the second in the tournament.
"We have some weapons," said MacKinnon, crediting his teammates for his offensive production after nine contests. "I'm playing with two 30-plus goal scorers, and I'm just trying to find them out there and they make me better as well. Our power play is clicking, which is huge."
Russia's Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks is the scoring leader at the Worlds with 16 points. He recorded two helpers on Saturday.
Ryan O'Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres scored the game-winner nearly two minutes after MacKinnon's tally to give Canada its first lead, and he assisted on the Flyers' Sean Couturier's empty-net goal with 1:07 left.
"That was one of the greatest hockey games I've ever been a part of," Canada and Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said to the Canadian Press afterward.
"I thought every single Russian player played as hard as they possibly could, just as every Canadian player (did). When you're playing as hard as you can, that's all you can really ask from the guys."
MacKinnon told the IIHF website after the contest that playing a tight semifinal should benefit Canada as it goes into the championship game on Sunday against Sweden.
"It's better than winning a blowout or a soft game," MacKinnon said. "We came back, we had some adversity, and it didn't stop us. So regardless of what happens tomorrow, we're going to keep pressing and we're really excited."
Avalanche forward Matt Duchene was a member of Canada's last two title runs and will aim to add a third World Championship gold to his trophy case. Duchene is looking to join Eric Brewer as the only Canadian to win three Worlds titles, and the only Team Canada player to do so in three consecutive years.
The Haliburton, Ontario, native is at his sixth World Championship and Sunday's final will mark Duchene's 52nd career game at the tournament, tying Dany Heatley for the second most in Hockey Canada history. Ryan Smythe holds the record with 60 contests.
Duchene was on a line with Couturier and the Lightning's Alex Killorn against Russia.
Avalanche prospect Andrei Mironov of Team Russia did not play. It was the fourth straight game that he had been scratched after seeing significant ice time in the first five contests of the tournament.
A victory on Sunday would make Canada the first country to win three straight World Championship titles since the Czech Republic did it from 1999-2001. The last time the Canadians had a three-peat at Worlds was from 1950-1952.
SWEDEN (4) VS. FINLAND (1)
Team Sweden used two second-period goals to defeat rival Finland 4-1 in the 2017 IIHF World Championship semifinals on Saturday at LANXESS Arena in Cologne.
Sweden will face Canada in the gold-medal game on Sunday in Cologne, the first time these countries have met in the final since 2003 and 2004 when Canada won both. Sweden's last victory against Canada in the championship game was in 1991.
Team Sweden struck first in the contest against the Finns as Alexander Edler (Vancouver Canucks) tallied just 1:49 after the opening faceoff. Joonas Kemppainen scored for Finland at 4:45 of the period, and the teams went to the intermission tied 1-1.
The Swedes pulled away in the second frame as the Dallas Stars' John Klingberg and the Toronto Maple Leafs' William Nylander added markers to give the 2013 gold medalists a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Joakim Nordstrom of the Carolina Hurricanes tallied Sweden's fourth goal of the contest with 6:08 left in regulation.
"I don't think we played well enough to win," Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen told the official IIHF website. "We know Sweden has a really good team, and we needed to play our best. We didn't. The better team won."
Rantanen finished with one shot while playing 16:50 on Finland's top group with Valtteri Filppula (Flyers) and Veli-Matti Savinainen.
Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog, a member of the Sweden squad that won at the World Championship in 2013, had three shots in 18:53 of ice time while on the first line with the Carolina duo of Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask.
After the contest, Landeskog was named one of the top three players for Sweden at the tournament, along with Victor Hedman (Lightning) and Nylander.
Colorado's Carl Soderberg did not play in the contest for Sweden.
Finland will now get ready to face Russia for the bronze medal on Sunday.
"It's a big disappointment to be in the bronze-medal game," said Rantanen. "But we want a medal, so we have to refresh tomorrow and have a good start."