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Canada-Russia final lived up to the hype

by Brad Holland

The first ever World Championship held in Canada comes to a disappointing end for Canadian fans as Team Russia skates away with the gold.
It was a matchup nearly 20 years in the making and the one everyone wanted to see.

Russia and Canada hadn't met in the World Championship final since 1989 in Stockholm, in a game in which the former Soviet Union emerged victorious. Flash forward 19 years and Russia and Canada, the 2008 tournament's two best teams, brought identical 8-0 records into the gold-medal game.

And for once, this one lived up to the hype.

Just ask Alex Ovechkin, Russia's answer to the tournament's top scoring line of Dany Heatley, Ryan Getzlaf and Rick Nash. Ovechkin's line of Washington Capitals teammates Alex Semin and Sergei Fedorov was dubbed "The Capital Punishment" line by the media.

"Right now we are the champions of the world," Ovechkin said. "It's really special to win here because this is hockey and it's a hockey-mad country. It just feels wonderful. It feels so great."

It was a game of pedigree, skill and passion; of top line against top line and two dominant goaltenders – a past Calder Trophy winner in Russia's Evgeni Nabokov and a former Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner in Canada's Cam Ward.

This year's tournament was the first ever played in Canada, so the Russian victory was disappointing to millions of Canadian fans.

Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored the game-tying and game-winning goals, credits hard work, luck, and even divine intervention as factors in the Russians' victory.

"God was on our side a little more than them," Kovalchuk said. "In overtime, they take that penalty - that's the new rules. I don't know if it's good or it's bad, but it worked for us."

Each team relied heavily, but not completely, on a top line. The Canadians' first line of Heatley-Nash-Spezza finished the tournament as the top-scoring trio, combining for 21 goals and 47 points in only nine games. They finished the tournament as the top three scorers, with Heatley at No. 1, Getzlaf at No. 2 and Nash at No. 3.

The Russians' top unit of Ovechkin, Fedorov and Semin was almost as good, combining for 17 goals and 37 points in nine games and finishing the tournament with Semin tied for third in overall scoring and Ovechkin and Fedorov tied for sixth.

In addition, Nabokov led the tournament with a 1.78 goals-against average, was second in save percentage at .929, was first in shutouts with two and had a shutout streak of more than 125 minutes. It was broken when Canadian defender Brent Burns scored in the first period.

Canada also had strong goaltending, but used a two-goalie system, with Pascal Leclaire and Ward. The two combined for a 2.32 GAA and a .911 save percentage in nine games.

Coach Ken Hitchcock understands that in a game between two such accomplished teams there is a fine line between winning and losing.

"You get a game into overtime and it's flip a coin," Hitchcock said. "We all know that. We've all been in these games before."

Kovalchuk's game-winning power-play goal came after Nash took a puck-over-the glass delay of game penalty just 1:55 into overtime.

Nash spoke of missed opportunities, and of the Canada's inability to hold a two-goal lead in the third period.

"We really sat back in the second half (of the game)," Nash said. "You have a two-goal lead in the gold-medal game going into the third period – we had to play better."

Tournament MVP Heatley agreed.

We're very disappointed right now in our room. We had a two-goal lead going into the third period. I thought we played really well up to then. I thought we gave them a little too much room in the third period and they've got some really good shooters over there. - Dany Heatley
"We're very disappointed right now in our room," Heatley said. "We had a two-goal lead going into the third period. I thought we played really well up to then. I thought we gave them a little too much room in the third period and they've got some really good shooters over there."

Heatley finished the tournament with 12 goals and 20 points, tying a points record held by Steve Yzerman. Heatley had passed Yzerman earlier in the tournament as Team Canada's all-time World Championship scorer.

"Nobody on this team came here to win silver," Ward said. "It's tough right now because you do feel like you've let your country down. There will be other tournaments and there will be more to come. We've got to keep our head up high."

Finland defeats "bitter friends" – When Sweden faces Finland, you can throw the record books out the window. The trends don't matter, the prize doesn't matter, and the individual lineups play an almost secondary role because these two teams just plain don't like to lose to one other.

"A medal is always a medal," said Finnish veteran Saku Koivu. "Obviously, you'd like to be in the Final, but we had a lot of people back home watching the game. It's a big tournament for European countries. And playing against the Swedes – we don't want to lose to them. Now we got the bronze, people back home are happy and we can have a bit more fun with this."

Sweden's all-time record in official games against Finland now is 40-16-15. Including exhibition games, it is 151-84-33 since their first meeting in 1928, but the Finns had won the most recent incarnation of the rivalry prior to Saturday's bronze-medal game.

Finnish goalie Niklas Backstrom stopped 36 Swedish shots in a convincing 4-0 victory.

"We battled hard, but I don't know if we were that much better (than Sweden)," said Finnish captain Ville Peltonen. "Backstrom was the difference."

Team Finlands' Niklas Backstrom shutout Team Sweden by stopping all 36 shots faced in the 4-0 Finnish victory.
"Backstrom won the game for them," said Swedish defenseman Anton Stralman.

Koivu, captain of the Montreal Canadiens, knows the tournament will be a special memory for years to come.

"I don't know if we'll ever get that chance again," Koivu said. "And we had our parents up in the stands, so it was pretty cool for them as well. We (Koivu and his brother Mikko) have a nine-year age difference and it's only been a couple of years that we've been living the same life, so now playing on the same line was a great experience."

It also will be a lasting memory for Anaheim Ducks forward Teemu Selanne.

"I played my last game for the national team," Selanne said. "It's time to move on."

If it was indeed Selanne's last game, then he wraps up an extraordinary hockey career both internationally and in the NHL.

News and Notes – Heatley was selected as the best forward, while teammate Brent Burns was honored as the tournament's best defenseman. Russian goaltender Evgeni Nabokov was announced the best goalie of the tournament. … The media All-Stars for the tournament were goalie Nabokov, defensemen Mike Green and Tomas Kaberle, and forwards Rick Nash, Heatley and Alex Ovechkin. … Despite garnering two game misconducts, 52 minutes in penalties and getting suspended for the semifinal against Finland, Ilya Kovalchuk will look back fondly on his 2008 World Championship because his two goals tied and won the gold medal for the Russians in the third period of the Final game. … It was not Henrik Lundqvist or Mikael Tellqvist who started the bronze-medal game for Team Sweden, but unknown (at least to North American hockey fans) Stefan Liv. Liv, a fourth-round selection of the Detroit Red Wings in the 2000 Entry Draft, competes for HV71 Jonkoping in the Swedish Elite League. … American forward Phil Kessel scored his six goals – tied for second in the tournament – on just 14 shots for an almost-unheard of 43-percent accuracy rate. By comparison, Patrik Elias, who took the second-fewest amount of shots to score six goals, scored his on 29 shots.

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