Canada defeated Czech Republic 2-0 in the first semifinal at the 2015 IIHF World Championship in Czech Republic on Saturday afternoon. Canada will play for gold for the first time since 2009.
As the most offensive team in the tournament, scoring 58 goals in eight games - 23 more goals than any other team - the Czechs knew they had their hands full with the Canadians.
"They are a good team, but they are humans….they are beatable," said Czech captain Jakub Voracek yesterday afternoon. "We just have to be ready to skate and play physical because when you let them play with the puck it's going to be dangerous. We have to make sure to hold on to the puck, skate well, play good defense and I also think the first goal is going to be very important as well."
The pace and intensity level for the first five minutes of the game was off-the-charts. The Czechs were pressing hard and the Canadians weren't backing down as the teams traded chances.
First, it was Roman Cervenka with a breakaway opportunity, but fired wide. Then, it was Taylor Hall with a wrister from the circle that hit the crossbar, followed by a wide open net for Martin Zatovic after Mike Smith's clearing attempt from behind the net turned into a pass right to the Czech forward along the boards.
"They came at us hard, but we knew they had a lot of skill and a lot of big guys that like to handle the puck down low. So, we tried to eliminate that as much as we could, stay calm on the bench, not panic," said defenseman Jake Muzzin. "We knew we had a lot of skilled guys on our team too and a good goaltender that, if we got back to our basics, we should be ok."
Then, Sidney Crosby wired a pass from the back of the neutral zone to Jordan Eberle streaking through center ice on a partial breakaway. He saw Taylor Hall right on his heels and threw a cross crease pass to him right at the very last second to make Ondrej Pavelec move post-to-post, but he didn't move fast enough as Hall had a wide open net to score the game's first goal at 8:40 of the first period.
The Czechs would keep pressing, but the Canadians defensive effort was smothering every opportunity as soon as they crossed the blueline. In the final minute of play, it was almost 2-0 as Tyler Ennis wrapped around the back of the net and passed the puck to Cody Eakin in the slot, but it hit the post. 1-0 Canada after an intense 20 minutes of play in which the shots favored Canada 19-10.
Early in the second period, Crosby missed a wide open net on a back door play with the man advantage. Shortly after the power play expired, Brent Burns' shot from the point was deflected and Canada hit it's third crossbar of the game.
Midway through the period, Mike Smith would make a great save against Jakub Krejcik and on the very next play, Dan Hamhuis would bank the puck off the boards to find Jason Spezza cursing down the wing. He'd fire a shot through the defender's legs and beat Pavelec five hole to give Canada a 2-0 lead.
As Czech Republic struggled to even get across the blueline, the majority of fans at the sold out O2 Arena in Prague were still jumping, chanting, whistling and cheering for the home team, especially when Voracek had a great opportunity a few minutes later and even more so when Michal Jordan appeared to score, but the goal was disallowed for a crease violation by Petr Koukal.
"Playing the home team, there was obviously a great atmosphere," Muzzin said. "The crowd was buzzing, and they came out with a strong push early, but we settled in and got to our game plan, got a couple goals and hung on."
It was a strong defensive effort from both teams with both goalies coming up big in the third period, but Canada saw the gold medal game in sight and played an excellent game of keep away against the Czechs for a 2-0 win and a chance to win gold tomorrow night.
"It will be exciting!" said Muzzin. "I've never had the opportunity to play for gold before, so I'm looking forward to it."
Canada will play the winner of USA/RUS at 11:45am PT on Sunday for gold live on NBCSports.