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Overtime heartbreak for Canada

by Staff Writer / Ottawa Senators

QUEBEC — The Russians got the sweetest revenge possible at the IIHF World Hockey Championship.

Ilya Kovalchuk scored his second goal of the game in overtime Sunday as Russia beat Canada 5-4 to capture the country's first gold medal at the event since 1993. A year earlier, O Canada was played at Khodynka Arena in Moscow, and this time it was the Russians that got to sing their national anthem at Le Pepsi Colisee.

Canada took a 4-2 lead into the third period but couldn't hold off the skilled Russians. Alexei Tereshchenko and Kovalchuk scored to tie it, setting the stage for the dramatic overtime winner.

Rick Nash had been sent to the penalty box after accidentally sending the puck over the glass from his own end. The Russians then put out four forwards for the 4-on-3 advantage and Kovalchuk beat Canadian goalie Cam Ward with a wrist shot at 2:42.

The Russians littered the ice in celebration of a gold medal they had wanted to win so badly on home ice one year ago.

It kept the home team curse alive as Canada had a chance to become the first host country to win the world championship since the Soviet Union in 1986.

This Canadian team had steamrolled its way through the tournament but had yet to face an opponent as good as the Russians. The loss brought an end to a 17-game winning streak for Canada dating back to last year's gold medal win.

Alexander Semin scored Russia's two other goals.

Brent Burns, with two, Dany Heatley of the Ottawa Senators and Chris Kunitz scored for Canada. Heatley also added an assist to cap the best tournament ever by a Canadian player in the 31 years the country has been sending NHLers to this event. 

He was named the tournament's MVP, best forward and named to the all-star team along with Rick Nash and defenceman Mike Green.

Those honours will do little to soothe the pain of this loss. These players all gave up a month of their off-season to wear the Maple Leaf on home soil and every one of them believed they'd be going home with a gold medal.

This tournament often has trouble capturing the attention of Canadian fans but it would be nearly impossible for anyone who loves hockey not to enjoy this game. Eight of the top 20 NHL scorers were on the ice and it felt like a goal could be scored at any moment.

Fans wearing Canadian jerseys packed Le Colisee and the sellout crowd of 13,338 roared as the game began. Prime Minister Stephen Harper sat three rows behind the home team's bench and lent his support too.

But it was the Russians that struck first with a goal that demonstrated just how dangerous they can be. Alex Ovechkin found Semin in the slot and he put it past Ward before the Canadian goalie could even react. It was 1-0 just 1:23 into the game.

Canada had only trailed once in eight previous games during this event but this deficit didn't last long. Burns tied it at 3:54 by making a nice fake move on a defender and wiring a wrist shot past a screened Evgeni Nabokov.

Kunitz gave them a 2-1 lead at 9:17 after linemate Eric Staal got tied up with a Russian in the neutral zone. He picked up the puck and beat Nabokov to the glove side with a slapshot.

The Russians then found themselves in penalty trouble and were down 5-on-3 when Burns scored for the second time. The Canadian defenceman was planted in front of the goal and slid the puck through Nabokov's legs at 14:51.

Canada took a 3-1 lead to the dressing room after the first period but had to know it probably wouldn't be enough against the skilled Russians, who were assessed five penalties in the first 20 minutes compared to just one for Canada.

That Canadian penalty carried over to the second period and Semin's second goal of the game was scored at 1:14 with the man advantage. The penalty killers had at least two good opportunities to get the puck out of the zone before Semin lifted it over Ward.

Canada's big line had a bit of a slow start in this game but it was only a matter of time before they got going. Heatley made it 4-2 at 9:56 when he beat Nabokov short side for his 12th goal of the tournament, setting a new modern day record for Canadians.

It was also his 20th point, which equalled the total Steve Yzerman had at the 1990 world championship.

The main reason Canada started the third period with a 4-2 lead was because of Ward, who won last year's gold-medal game. He stopped Ovechkin on a breakaway in the second period and had Kovalchuk shaking his head in disbelief after making a nice glove save on him early in the third.

He had to be especially sharp after Tereshchenko narrowed the lead to 4-3 at 9:55 of the third period and Canadian forward Ryan Getzlaf took a penalty for hooking. The defenders in front of him did a good job of blocking shots during that disadvantage.

From there, Canada just tried to hold the Russians off as time ticked away ever so slowly and that proved costly when Kovalchuk tied the game at 14:46. It was his first goal of the tournament and he jumped and hung from the glass after scoring it.

There weren't many quality chances at either end after that and the game went to a 20-minute overtime period, where it was decided by Kovalchuk's goal.

It was a crushing defeat for the Canadians, who had already accomplished one of their objectives by regaining the top spot in the world rankings that will be used for the 2010 Olympics.

Canada will open next year's world championship in Kloten, Switzerland in a group with Hungary, Belarus and Slovakia. They'll be looking to win the gold medal they thought was coming here.

Notes: The event drew the third-most number of fans ever at a world championship with 477,584 attending games in Halifax and Quebec ... Heatley also led Canada in scoring at the 2003 and 2004 world championships ... Ken Dryden and Vladislav Tretiak were each at the game. They were in opposite goals during the 1972 Summit Series ... Nabokov wears Tretiak's famous No. 20.

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