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U.S., Canada look to advance to championship game

by John Kreiser

The United States and Canada will have to defeat preliminary-round opponents again in the semifinals on Saturday to advance to the championship game at the IIHF World Championship in Prague, Czech Republic.

The U.S. defeated Russia 4-2 during round-robin play on the way to a first-place finish in Group B. But the Russian team they play in their semifinal game will be bolstered by the addition of NHL goal-scoring leader Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. He flew to Prague after the Capitals were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the New York Rangers on Wednesday. Ovechkin, who scored 53 goals during the regular season, had the Capitals' goal in a 2-1 overtime loss in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Second Round.

Ovechkin is making his 11th appearance at the World Championship; he has helped Russia to the gold medal three times, including last year.

The U.S. has won seven of its eight games in the tournament, including a 3-1 quarterfinal victory against Switzerland on Thursday.

"This team continues to find a way to win and I'm really proud of the group," coach Todd Richards (Columbus Blue Jackets) said, according to USA Hockey's website.

Russia advanced by defeating Sweden 5-3 in its quarterfinal game, and Ovechkin will join a group of star forwards that includes Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues) and former NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk.

The Russians are eager for a chance to avenge their earlier loss.

"We should be excited about the U.S.," Russian forward Viktor Tikhonov told the IIHF website. "It's what we wanted because every time you lose to someone you always want to prove that you can come back and beat them. We got our chance and we've got to go out there and win."

Canada, which routed Belarus 9-0 on Thursday in the quarterfinals, has won all eight of its games and has scored a tournament-high 58 goals. To make the final, Canada will have to beat the Czech Republic for a second time at O2 Arena, which was packed on Thursday for the Czechs' 5-3 quarterfinal victory against Finland.

Canada won 6-3 when the teams met during the preliminary round, but the game was tied 2-2 late in the second period before a goal by Sean Couturier (Philadelphia Flyers) put Canada ahead to stay. Tyler Seguin (Dallas Stars), who's tied for the tournament lead in goals with eight, sparked a three-goal third period that put the game away.

"It's nice to put ourselves in a position to get to the finals," captain Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins) said after the win against Belarus. "That's the important thing, to get better every game. At this point, you've got to be at your best. It's win or go home. We did a good job today."

A victory would move Crosby within one win of joining the Triple Gold club, made up of 25 players and one coach who have won the Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and a World Championship.

One member of that club is 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr, whose second goal of the game against Finland broke a 3-3 tie with 4:30 left in regulation. Jagr, 43, is the oldest player ever to score a goal at a World Championship. He has a team-high nine points, and his six goals are tied for third in the tournament.

Jagr and his teammates should get a boost from a sellout crowd of more than 17,000 as they try to prevent Canada from having a chance to win its first gold medal since 2007. But he knows it won't be easy to beat the team that has dominated the tournament thus far.

"We're under huge pressure," Jagr said, according to The Associated Press. "The fans consider us better than Canada. They're excellent players. It could be they'll never have such a great team at the worlds again. If they play their best, we have little chance. We can't give them a bit of ice without fighting."

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