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Canada, U.S. lead final eight at World Championship

by John Kreiser /

Sidney Crosby can move one step closer to the Triple Gold club when he leads Canada against Belarus on Thursday in one of four quarterfinal games at the IIHF World Championship in the Czech Republic.

A total of 25 players and one coach (Mike Babcock) are members of the Triple Gold club, meaning they've been on teams that won an Olympic gold medal, the Stanley Cup and a World Championship. Crosby has two Olympic golds and the Stanley Cup; however, Canada hasn't won a World Championship since 2007, one year after finishing fourth despite Crosby's 16 points in nine games following his rookie season for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Canada steamrolled its way through Group A during preliminary-round play, winning all seven of its games in regulation at 02 Arena in Prague and piling up a tournament-high 49 goals. Crosby (three goals, seven points in six games) was not among Canada's top scorers; Matt Duchene (Colorado Avalanche) and Jason Spezza (Dallas Stars) were two of four players to tie for the tournament scoring lead with 11 points, one more than Jordan Eberle (Edmonton Oilers). Taylor Hall (Oilers) led Canada with six goals, one more than Eberle and Tyler Seguin (Stars).

Belarus, led by longtime NHL defenseman and coach Dave Lewis, finished fourth in Group B but was the only team to defeat the first-place United States. Its roster features former NHL forwards Andrei Kostitsyn and Sergei Kostitsyn, as well as team scoring leader Alexei Kalyuzhny (five goals, 10 points). Goaltender Kevin Lalande had a 2.17 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in six starts (four wins).

The winner of the Canada-Belarus game will play the winner of the other quarterfinal between Finland and the host Czech Republic at 02 Arena. Finland lost 5-1 to the United States in its first game, then shut out four consecutive opponents and won two shootouts to finish behind the U.S. by one point. Goaltender Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators) allowed eight goals in six games and had three shutouts; no other team had more than one.

The Czech Republic, third in Group A, will have the support of its home crowd. But it might not have forward Jaromir Jagr, who played less than two minutes of a 2-1 shootout victory against Switzerland on Tuesday before leaving with a suspected injury. Jagr, 43, has a team-high four goals and six points. Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (Winnipeg Jets) had a 1.58 GAA and .921 save percentage in six games.

The U.S., a surprise first-place finisher in Group B, plays its quarterfinal game at CEZ Arena in Ostrava against Switzerland, which finished fourth in Group A. The United States (5-1-0-1, 17 points) was nowhere near as dominant as Canada, but won its group for the first time under the current format with an extremely young roster. Forward Brock Nelson (New York Islanders) led the team with six goals, and Jack Eichel, expected to be a top-three pick at the 2015 NHL Draft next month, had two goals and six points in seven games; his overtime goal against Slovakia on Tuesday gave the U.S. a 5-4 victory and locked up first place.

Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg Jets), who spent the 2014-15 season in the American Hockey League, played the final three games for the U.S. and finished the preliminary round with a 5-0-0 record, a 1.38 GAA and a .942 save percentage.

The other quarterfinal game in Ostrava matches Sweden, which finished second in Group A, and Russia, the third-place finisher in Group B. Sweden, which couldn't hold an early 3-0 lead in a loss to Canada, is led by forward Filip Forsberg (Nashville Predators), who led all players in goals with eight in seven games, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Arizona Coyotes) who led all defensemen and tied for the tournament scoring lead with 11 points. Goaltender Jhonas Enroth (Stars) played five games and won four. He had a 2.34 GAA, but his save percentage was .889.

Russia has plenty of firepower, led by Evgeni Dadonov (four goals, 11 points) and Artemi Panarin (five goals, 10 points), as well as NHL stars Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues). Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus Blue Jackets) won four of six decisions and finished with a 1.99 GAA and .902 save percentage.

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