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Canada, Russia ready to play for gold again at WJC

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

TORONTO -- Canada will play Russia in the gold-medal game of the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship at Air Canada Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NHLN-US). It's the 14th time in tournament history those teams have met in the WJC title game, and the eighth time since 1996.

Russia beat Sweden 4-1 in its semifinal Sunday while Canada beat Slovakia 5-1.

"It's special," Canada defenseman Joshua Morrissey said. "Canada and Russia; it's one of those great rivalries in hockey. It's always very intense. Hearing the fans chant 'Canada' and 'We want Russia' in the end was pretty cool. It's pretty inspiring."

Canada holds a 7-6 lead in the championship-round games. Russia, however, has defeated Canada in the playoff round at the past four tournaments, including the bronze-medal game in 2013 and 2014.

"It's going to be unbelievable," Canada forward Connor McDavid said. "I dream of getting this opportunity and we have it in front of us. But we can't look too far ahead because we have a great Russian team next. This is going to be pretty cool [Monday]."

Canada has won three of the past four gold-medal games (2005, 2006, 2007) against Russia, but the most recent gold game between them occurred in 2011 when Russia scored five unanswered goals in the third period to earn a stunning 5-3 victory in Buffalo.

"We know we have to play a complete 60 minutes of hard hitting and fast-paced hockey against Russia," Canada defenseman Joe Hicketts said. "We expect them to play a fast game too. They play more of a North American-style of hockey on this NHL-sized ice. We'll have to get pucks deep and hopefully withstand some of their push-backs."

Russia is riding an emotional high after successive playoff-round victories against the United States (3-2) in the quarterfinals and Sweden in the semifinals.

Goaltender Igor Shesterkin (New York Rangers) has stopped 65 of 68 shots in the two medal-round wins and 120 of 126 for the tournament, with a 1.50 goals-against average and .952 save percentage. He credited his teammates in the victory against Sweden, which entered the game ranked second in the tournament with 24 goals. Shesterkin and his teammates denied Sweden on three power-play chances.

"I feel OK; all my teammates have adapted to the pressure and that's why we have done so well the past two games," Shesterkin said.

The Russia offense has been led by the top line of Ivan Barbashev (St. Louis Blues), Pavel Buchnevich (New York Rangers) and Vyacheslav Leshenko (2015 draft eligible), which has combined for six goals and 15 points. Forward Alexander Sharov (2015 draft eligible) scored two goals against Sweden and has four in the tournament.

"We've seen [Canada] games and they have pretty good skilled guys and a couple of them playing in the NHL," Barbashev said. "They have a pretty good team this year. I think it helps that we had a tough road to the final; we had a couple pretty hard games against the United States and Sweden. We know how to play and we'll be playing the same way we played [against Sweden and the United States]."

Russia two-way forward Nikolay Goldobin (San Jose Sharks), who has one goal and three points, has found good chemistry alongside Sergey Tolchinsky (Carolina Hurricanes) and Vladislav Kamenev (Nashville Predators).

Russia ranks fourth on the power play (7-for-24, 29.2 percent) but seventh in penalty killing (17-for-22, 77.3 percent) in the tournament. Russia has 20 goals in six games to rank third in that category.

"Everybody understands we don't have a chance to have mistakes," Barbashev said. "We know it was kind of brutal in [Group B], but after the quarterfinals and semifinals everybody was together and we play for 100 percent."

Canada's top line of Sam Reinhart (Buffalo Sabres) centering Max Domi (Arizona Coyotes) and Anthony Duclair (New York Rangers) has done well all tournament.

"[Russia] is a strong team," Reinhart said. "They play a physical game and come at you with everybody. We have to keep our pace up against them. I wouldn't be surprised if it's a very physical game."

Reinhart has four goals and 10 points in six games, Domi has four goals and seven points and Duclair has three goals and seven points. Nicolas Petan (Winnipeg Jets) had a hat trick in the victory against Slovakia on Sunday; he has four goals and a tournament-high 11 points.

Connor McDavid, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, had three assists against Slovakia to boost his scoring totals to two goals and 10 points with 20 shots on goal.

McDavid entered the tournament having missed five weeks after sustaining an injury to his right hand injury Nov. 11, but he has one goal and five assists in two medal-round victories. McDavid still remembers losing to Russia in the bronze-medal game at the 2014 WJC in Malmo, Sweden, and said he is looking forward to playing on what is sure to be an emotional night in Toronto.

"I can't really explain it; it's a feeling that you're going to have to feel when you skate out there," he said. "Every time you skate on the ice at the ACC the fans are going crazy. It's so exciting every time."

Canada captain Curtis Lazar (Ottawa Senators) also has been big, tying for the tournament lead with five goals. Defensively, Darnell Nurse (Edmonton Oilers) and Shea Theodore (Anaheim Ducks) will look to shut down Russia's top line, just as they did United States center Jack Eichel, a projected top-two choice in the 2015 draft, and his linemates in a 5-3 preliminary-round victory on New Year's Eve.

Morrissey (Winnipeg Jets) not only has three points and a plus-seven rating for Canada, but he has been a big physical presence in every area of the ice. Goaltender Zachary Fucale (Montreal Canadiens) has started the past two games, allowing one goal on 29 shots.

"Canada versus Russia is something you dream of," Hicketts said. "That rivalry has been around since the 1972 Summit Series that I have been told about and see highlights all the time. It's going to be something special."

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