HALIFAX – Canada’s defence hasn’t received the attention that other elements of the team has, but it was superb play in their own end--led by goalie Pascal Leclaire--for the first two periods that contributed greatly to the Canadians’ impressive 6-3 win over Finland this afternoon at the Metro Centre.
The Rick Nash-Ryan Getzlaf-Dany Heatley line led the attack again with eight scoring points. Heatley had two goals to bump his tournament lead in both goals (9) and total points (13). Getzlaf had a goal and two assists and Nash three assists.
Canada has now allowed just ten goals in six games, the best defensive record in the tournament. It has also scored 35 goals, tops in offense as well. This was the 15th straight win at the World Championship for the Canadians.
The game was superbly refereed by the Swedish duo of Christer Larking and Marcus Vinnerborg who perhaps ignored the crackdown on obstruction for this one game. Nonetheless, players hit hard and got away with a few small infractions, but the rewards were worth it for fans of high-tempo hockey. Just eight routine minors were called all game by the Swedish zebras.
With the win, Canada finishes the Qualification Round in first place and will face either Norway or Latvia in the quarter-finals on Wednesday afternoon. The Canadians will play Norway if Germany beats Latvia in the late game tonight and will play Latvia if the Latvians earn at least one point against Germany. Finland finishes in second place and will face the United States for the second time in three days.
"We know the Americans are a tough team and we didn't want to play them again," offered captain Shane Doan of a possible quarter-finals date with neighbouring USA. "And, we knew Finland wanted to beat us, so it was important to end with a big win."
It didn’t take long for the big line to make its mark against the Finns. Thirty-three seconds, to be exact. Nash came in over the blueline, moved the puck forward to Getzlaf who walked in past the defence and lifted a high shot over the glove of Niklas Backstrom before many of the fans had found their seats.
The Finns tied the game up on a strange play. Canada had the man advantage and the Finns iced the puck and made a line change. Goalie Leclaire raced out, though, to get to the puck and move it ahead to Dany Heatley, stationed at centre ice. The pass reached Heatley but he lost control of it and Antti Pihlstrom skated down the wing as Leclaire hurried to his goal. He barely made it to the top of the crease and Pihlstrom beat Leclaire between the legs before the goalie could get into the set position.
Canada countered with its own short-handed goal on a great give-and-go between Shane Doan and Chris Kunitz. Kunitz took the puck into the Finnish end and sent Doan in alone on Backstrom, but Doan deked himself out of position. He swung around, though, and from an impossible angle fired the puck over the fallen goalie to restore Canada’s lead.
Moments later, Leclaire robbed Pihlstrom blind going post-to-post on a one-timer. It was portents of things to come as the Finns controlled much of the rest of the period, cycling effectively and maintaining puck possession with impressive tenacity.
"We counted on Pascal a lot tonight, especially early on," Doan said. "We knew that if they had a lead that they could just shut it down."
The second period saw Canada play solid defence while not worrying so much about scoring, yet the Nash line scored a beauty midway through the period when Heatley finished the play by driving to the net from the corner. He beat Backstrom with a backhand to the stick side. Getzlaf and Nash had made beautiful quick passes along the left boards to spring Heatley free.
Patrick Sharp made it 4-1 on another short-handed effort, this time flying down the right wing and burying a shot between Backstrom’s pads at 18:12.
"If you want to beat a team like Canada, you have to play a perfect game, and we clearly didn't do that," Finnish forward Teemu Selanne admitted. "You're not going to beat a team like that by giving up two short-handed goals."
Some great forechecking by Doan and Jonathan Toews produced Canada’s fifth goal early in the third, culminating with Doan’s rocket of a shot over the glove of Backstrom who allowed five goals on just 15 shots to this point.
Pihlstrom and Tuomo Ruutu scored for Finland in the third while Heatley added a second goal to complete the scoring for Canada.
"I think this was a tough test for us," Patrick Sharp said. "They play a similar game that some National Hockey League teams do. We wanted to get this win today for the number-one seed, so we treated it as a do-or-die game.