MYTISCHI, Russia – Rick Nash scored the winning goal and Jonathan Toews had three assists in Canada's 5-4 triumph over Slovakia on Wednesday for Canada's third straight win at the World Hockey Championship.
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Finland 4 - Canada 2
Canada 3 - Germany 2
Canada 4 - Norway 2
Had the Canadians lost, they would have to play on Thursday under the format in place for the 16-team tournament.
But by finishing in first place in its pool in the preliminary round, Canada was rewarded with a day off to prepare for a game against Belarus on Friday when the qualifying round begins. Canada then plays the Czech Republic on Sunday and finishes the next round of the championship tournament against the United States on Monday
"That is huge for us," said defenceman Mike Commodore about the day off before the next round starts. "Had we lost it would have meant 4 games in 5 days and that's punishing. Having the day off was motivation for sure."
The game was knotted at 4-4 when the Canadians went on the power play in the third. Toews, who at 19 is Canada's youngest player, had the puck in the corner and he sent a pass back to the point to Cory Murphy, who played in Finland this season. Nash deflected Murphy's low shot for a goal at 9:02.
Less than two minutes later, goalie Dwayne Roloson made a brilliant cross-crease save on a shot by Slovak forward Marek Uram to preserve the victory. Roloson also made three terrific saves in a frantic finish to the game, including a pad save on a shot by Marian Gaborik with two seconds left before the final buzzer.
"Rollie was huge. I tell you those last 20 seconds were long and the last person you want to have the puck is Gaborik. That was a massive save," said Commodore.
Murphy, Eric Brewer and Dan Hamhuis - all defensemen – also scored for the Canadians, while forward Jamal Mayers had his third goal in as many games.
Unlike Canada's games against Norway and Germany, the match against the Slovaks was freewheeling and full of end-to-end action.
The Slovaks and Canadians traded power-play goals in the opening minutes of the game
Ten seconds after Barret Jackman was sent off for interference in the second minute of play, Milan Jurcina scored at 2:05 to open the scoring in a point shot that beat Roloson to his glove side.
The Slovaks took the next penalty in the game and Murphy stepped in a shot that sailed past goalie Jaroslav Halak at 3:39, just 13 seconds into the power play.
The Canadians kept the pressure on the Slovaks and the efforts paid off.
Mayers threw the puck around the boards and the disk made its way to Jason Chimera. He slipped a pass from behind the Slovak net out in front to Mayers and he finished the play with a quick shot for a 2-1lead at 0:25 of the second period.
Toews was the playmaker on the goal by Brewer. Toews had the puck on his stick and he hesitated making the pass long enough for Brewer to jump into the play from the point. Toews made a picture-perfect pass to Brewer and he snapped the puck past Halak at 11:27.
Marian Hossa put the Slovaks back to within one of a tie with a goal at 13:48 but Hamhuis batted a rebound into the Slovak net to restore Canada's two-goal lead at 15:09. The Slovaks replied by scoring the next two goals Uram scored on a breakaway at 17:37 of the second, and Miro Satan tied the game at 3:38 of the third. But Nash restored Canada's lead midway through the period and the Canadians nursed the one-goal margin of difference for the remainder. "This was a good measuring stick for us," said Commodore. "There are a lot of names we know on that team because they play in the NHL. Every team here is tough but the Slovaks were more our style. "The plan is to get better by the day and we were better today and we have more to give."