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Russia Blanks Finland to Advance to Semifinals

Bobrovsky makes 21 stops to enable Team Russia to earn a Saturday night date against Team Canada in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey semifinals

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / Monumental Sports Network

On this side of the planet, it's rarely much of a leap to see Russia as a villain. And with the hockey world having fallen head over heels for the upstart Team North America, Russia stepped once again into the role of villain on Thursday afternoon at Air Canada Centre.

The only way hockey fans would see the North American squad take the ice again in this tournament was if Team Finland could knock off the Russians in the final round-robin game for both teams. A Team Russia victory would sound the death knell - perhaps forever - for the exciting and endearing Team North America entry. 

On this side of the planet, it's rarely much of a leap to see Russia as a villain. And with the hockey world having fallen head over heels for the upstart Team North America, Russia stepped once again into the role of villain on Thursday afternoon at Air Canada Centre.

The only way hockey fans would see the North American squad take the ice again in this tournament was if Team Finland could knock off the Russians in the final round-robin game for both teams. A Team Russia victory would sound the death knell - perhaps forever - for the exciting and endearing Team North America entry. 

With virtually everyone outside of the motherland rooting diligently against them, the Russians methodically dismantled the offensively feeble Finns today by a 3-0 count, closing the book on North America and securing a Saturday night semifinal date with a juggernaut Team Canada squad.

After a dreary and scoreless first, the Russians took a 1-0 lead early in the second. Captain Alex Ovechkin passed from the slot, feeding linemate Vladimir Tarasenko for an easy tap-in from the top of the paint. The goal came on Russia's first shot attempt in a span of 12 minutes and 20 seconds, and it was all the offense they would require.

"I saw everybody putting pressure on me," says Ovechkin, "and I saw Vladdy there. So I tried to make a nice play."

Another pretty passing play less than two minutes later doubled that advantage. Ivan Telegin finished off a feed from Vadim Shipachev to make it a 2-0 game, and with that goal the reality of the Russians advancing became more tangible. 

Evgeni Malkin's third-period goal insured the outcome, and Russian netminder Sergei Bobrovsky needed to make only 21 saves to record the shutout. Bobrovsky was brilliant in a 43-save, 4-3 win over North America on Monday. 

When the Russians dropped their first game of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey tournament to Team Sweden last Sunday, chances of advancing to the semifinals didn't seem great. But an abrupt four-goal outburst in the second period of Monday's game against North American combined with a stellar netminding performance from Bobrovsky lifted Russia over North America.

"It's huge for us," says Ovechkin of his team's Thursday victory over Finland. "Obviously we were in tough position after the Sweden game, and we beat two solid teams to move forward. That's the most important thing." 

With less than half that workload, Bobrovsky was able to frustrate the Finns, who scored but one goal in nine periods of tournament play. Now Bobrovsky and Ovechkin and the rest of the Russians must face the heavyweight of the tourney, Team Canada. 

Canada went 3-0 in round-robin play and is the only team that has yet to taste defeat in the tournament. The Canadians have outscored the opposition by a combined 14-3 while Russia by a significantly less dazzling 8-5 margin.

How can the Russians defeat the Canadians? 

"By playing our game," says Russian center Evgeny Kuznetsov.

What is it about the Russians' game when played at its best that will enable the Russians to prevail on Saturday? 

"Obviously we have to move the puck better we do," says Ovechkin. "If we are going to play by ourselves, and if we're not going to move the puck, then we are going to have trouble. Everybody understands it, and I think it is a huge opportunity for us to move forward."

At least the Russians are familiar with being cast in the role of the villain. They'll be both the villain and the underdog come Saturday here in Toronto.

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