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Canada tops Russia 6-5 to make gold-medal game

by Adam Kimelman
OTTAWA -- The Drive for Five stayed on track Saturday night -- barely.

Jordan Eberle's second goal tied the game with 5.4 seconds left in regulation and then Eberle and John Tavares scored in the shootout to escape with a 6-5 victory against Russia and earn a spot in the gold medal game.

The pre-tournament favorites, Canada and Sweden, will meet Monday night in the championship game (7:30 p.m. ET, NHL Network).

While Canada and Sweden were the favorites in their respective semifinals Saturday, both had to avoid major upset bids.

Sweden trailed Slovakia 2-1 heading into the third period but rallied to win 5-3.

While Sweden's comeback was fast and decisive -- three goals in a 4:38 span turned the game in their favor -- it took one of Canada's smallest players to score one of the tournament's biggest goals.

With goalie Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker, John Tavares flipped a backhand on net that hit Russia defenseman Dmitri Kulikov in the chest. Kulikov tried to smother the puck, but it fell loose, and Eberle knocked it into the net.

"I saw him go to grab the puck and I saw it pop out a little bit and I just grabbed it and beat the goalie," Eberle said. "I had no idea how much time was left on the clock. We were lucky enough to put it in."

Defenseman P.K. Subban said he knew just how much time was left, which made the goal that much more memorable — and the memory that much more permanent.

"I was the first guy who went to him," Subban said. "The look on his face was priceless. That's something that will be installed in my brain for the rest of my life. Looking at his face when he scored was unbelievable."

It was a back and forth affair all the way through, a game of 'anything you can do I can do better' on ice. It seemed like every time Canada took advantage, Russia would battle right back and wrest control of the game.

Hard work and winning puck battles led to Canada's first two goals, by Brett Sonne and Patrice Cormier. But after each Canada score, Russia answered, first when Alex Pietrangelo fell at the blue line to let Maxim Goncharov score, and then 16 seconds after Cormier's goal, Dmitri Klopov converted a rebound that bounced between a Canadian defender's skates.

Back-to-back 5-on-3s helped Canada go ahead on Eberle's first goal of the game, but Russia answered 51 seconds into the third when Evgeny Grachev beat Tyler Myers to a loose puck at the Russian blue line and broke in to score.

Angelo Esposito's shorthanded goal seemed to Canada back in command, but Russia again answered quickly, when Sergei Andronov converted a two-man advantage.

"Esposito's goal should have been the one that clinched the game but wasn't," Team Canada coach Pat Quinn said. "We found a way to give it back to them."

Russia took its only lead with 2:20 left when a pinballing puck ended up behind Tokarski.

"It was quiet," said Subban of his team's bench after the goal. "But that's the best thing -- stay quiet, think about what you have to do. We have 2:20 left on the clock, and it's going to be the longest 2:20 of their lives. That's all we can concentrate on. Every time we got the puck we tired to make the most of our opportunities, and that's what Jordan Eberle did, he made the best of his opportunity today."

He wasn't the only one. Mikael Backlund and his Sweden teammates also took advantage of their opportunities.

"The third period, we stopped playing for like five minutes," said Slovakia goalie Jaroslav Janus, who singlehandedly carried his team past the U.S. in the quarterfinals and nearly did the same against Sweden. "We got kind of tired in the third period. They had two days off. We were playing good for two periods, we were skating, I made some saves, we scored goals. In the third period, we weren't strong enough."

For two periods, it didn't look like Sweden was strong enough. Images of what Janus and his teammates did to the U.S. 24 hours earlier were dancing in their head.

"I was scared for the third period," Backlund said. "I said I don't want to go home now, I want to play in the finals. We had good patience. We worked hard the whole game. If you work hard and play good, finally the bounces are going to come and they did."

That was the message coach Par Marts preached during the second intermission.

"We spoke about how it's time to show how good we are now," said Marts. "Rely on each other, don't do it yourself, play as a team, stay with the game plan and go for the win. And no bad thoughts. If you start to think bad thoughts about yourself, you're not going to win."

There were no more bad thoughts when Backlund scored 7:04 into the third period to tie the game at 2-2. Just 1:46 later, David Ullstrom drove to the net and toppled over Janus. Laying on his rear end, he used his stick blade like a pool cue to push the puck over the goal line.

That was all Backlund needed to see. He felt the game was in hand.

"It was a relief when we finally had the lead," he said. "It felt so good when we had the lead. When we scored to go up 3-2 I knew we were going to win. When we tied it we felt we had control of the game because we were better than them the whole game. We felt that if we get a lead we're going to win it."

Just 2:50 after Ullstrom's goal, Mattias Tedenby dug out a puck along the wall in the Slovakia end, deked his way around two defenseman and fed Simon Hjalmarsson at the right post for an easy stuff-in and a 4-2 lead.

Tomas Tatar, the NHL Central Scouting's top-ranked Slovak skater for the 2009 Entry Draft, scored his second of the game and sixth of the tournament to get his team back within a goal with 4:02 left, but Oscar Moller scored into an empty net with 1:17 left for the final margin.

All the negative thoughts were gone, and it was time for Marts the coach to turn into Marts the teacher, and explain to his student-players how much they could learn from a game like this one.

"I think we learned a lot from this game," he said. "If you're favored, you play under pressure … you get tight (but) you learn something from it. I think it's really good for my guys not to leave the game plan, to have to do it together as a team, a unit. We weren't lucky because we should win this game, but it was a really hard one for us."

Marts said his team would have to be better to go home with the gold Monday night. Quinn said much the same thing.

"They had hardly any trouble going through the tournament to this point," Quinn said. "We have to find ways to improve our game to be able to match them and their skill level."

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