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Spezza's scoring prowess has Canada in Worlds final

by Michael Langr

PRAGUE -- When you have center Jason Spezza on the roster, expect your team to score a lot of goals.

The Dallas Stars did it in the regular season, scoring 261 goals, second-most in the NHL. And Canada has done it at the 2015 IIHF World Championship in Prague, scoring 60 goals in its first nine games.

But unlike the Stars, who didn't make the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, Canada has been successful at the World Championship, defeating host Czech Republic on Saturday 2-0 and advancing to the gold-medal game Sunday against Russia (2:45 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN). Spezza scored Canada's second goal, his sixth of the tournament, 9:02 into the second period.

"That was a big goal, because a two-goal lead gives you a little bit of cushion in case something goes wrong or you get a penalty," Spezza said. "For us we've talked all tournament about kind of playing with the lead, how it's important to play with the lead on the big ice. So I thought once again we got the lead and we found a way to win the game."

Spezza, who scored 17 goals and 62 points in 82 games in his first season with Dallas, is top among all scorers at this year's World Championship with 14 points in nine games. He said he feels comfortable no matter what line he plays on; he started with Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche), before Crosby was replaced by Matt Duchene (Avalanche).

Spezza is playing in his third World Championship and for the third time he has made it to the gold-medal game. But he lost each previous time against Russia; in Quebec City in 2008, and in Bern, Switzerland, in 2009.

Now, Spezza said he believes the third time's the charm. The Russian team, led by forwards Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals) and Evgeni Malkin (Penguins), defeated the United States 4-0 in the other semifinal on Saturday.

"Obviously, we're playing for the medal and U.S. and Russia are two of our biggest rivals, so it's going be a great game regardless," Spezza said before knowing Canada's opponent. "As a country, we have a long history with both of these teams. Who we play isn't a factor for us, the most important thing is we have a chance to win the gold medal."

After outscoring most of its opponents by a wide margin in the preliminary round and defeating Belarus 9-0 in the quarterfinals, the Canadians showed Saturday that they can win by playing a tight checking game built on a strong defensive effort.

"We talked before the [semifinal] game about how we scored a lot of goals in the tournament, but there's a very good chance that it's going to be a low-scoring game once we get down to these last couple of games," Spezza said. "I think we did a very good job of keeping them in the outside and [goalie Mike Smith (Arizona Coyotes)] did a great job."

Spezza said he is happy about how well the Canadians have progressed during the tournament and the way they adjusted to the wider international ice surface; Canada's roster is made up entirely of NHL players but has won adopting a style of play that the Czech Republic, Russia and Sweden used to call European hockey.

"Our first meeting when we got together a month ago, we talked about how it's a different style game; the games are [officiated] differently, so we have to be careful trying to throw hits," Spezza said. "We have some guys who like to play physical and maybe you have to be careful a little bit, as opposed to being at home, and we've done a good job of executing that. I think the referees have been fair and good the whole tournament. We haven't gotten ourselves in too much penalty trouble and that's probably why we've got success."

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