It was one of the greatest comebacks ever attempted.  And the Canadians nearly pulled it off.

Down 6-1 with just a little over 10 minutes in the game, many had written the team off.  The lower bowl in the Saddledome was still mostly full, but telltale gaps in the crowd amply demonstrated the level of confidence certain fans had in the ability of the Canadian team to come back and win the game.

When Dougie Hamilton scored, the deficit still stood at four goals.  When Jayden Schwartz added another goal 23 seconds later, the Canadians were still a team down by three goals with less than 10 minutes remaining.  Then Brendan Gallagher scored, and the tenuous hope that the game might not be over became more than that.  Russian head coach Valeri Bragin called a timeout to calm his team down, but it wasn’t enough.  Defenseman Artyom Sergeyev took a hooking penalty; Brandon Gormley scored on the ensuing power play.

The Canadians were down by just a single goal.  The Russians were reeling; Bragin opted to pull Andrei Vasilevski and substitute Andrei Makarov, but the pressure felt inevitable.  The Canadians fired shot after shot after shot, ringing a puck off the post with seconds left, but it wasn’t enough.  Makarov, coming into a nasty situation cold, played superbly.  Most importantly, the Canadians just couldn’t finish.

Bragin would reflect after the game that he should have pulled Vasilevski earlier; the young goalie was obviously reeling after playing so well for the Russians earlier in the tournament.  Regardless, he made the decision in time.  The Russians would hang on for the win.

The comeback may buy this team more respect than the blown lead brought last year’s silver medalists, but it is difficult not to think back to all the mistakes of the Canadian team.  Iffy goaltending was certainly part of the story.  Another part of the story was poor discipline – the Russians scored two power play goals, and the Canadians combined for 55 penalty minutes, including a 5:00 major and a game misconduct for Boone Jenner on a retaliatory spearing penalty.  Missed assignments, bad changes, and ugly deflections – poor Ryan Murray was the victim of multiple counts of the latter – also helped flesh out a disastrous start for Team Canada.

Out-chancing the Russians – something Canada did the whole way, even while trailing – wasn’t enough to compensate.  The epic comeback attempt that fell just short wasn’t, either.  Now Canada will play the Finns for bronze, and watch as Russia carries on to the gold medal match.

 Sweden 3, Finland 2 (SO)

 As they have throughout the tournament, Finland managed to hang around despite being outshot and facing a sizeable deficit in terms of scoring chances.  This time, however, that wasn’t enough.  The Swedes scored twice in the shootout, but Joel Armia was the only shooter to reply for the Finns.  Mikael Granlund, Finland’s captain and best player, was their final shooter but he lost control of the puck as he attempted to stickhandle tight to Johan Gustafsson.

Sami Aittokallio won player of the game honours for Finland after a 53-save performance, but in some ways he must still have been disappointed with his own performance.  It was Aittokallio’s decision, after all, to go behind the net and attempt to clear the puck, a clearing attempt that Johan Sundstrom picked off and fed to Max Friberg for the tying goal late in the third period.  It was also Aittokallio who failed to make a save in the shootout – allowing two goals while the other shot went wide.

For Sweden, Max Friberg was once again the scoring hero, tallying the winning goal in the shootout as well as the game-tying goal with less than two minutes left in the contest.  The Ducks’ draft pick now sits at eight goals for the tournament.  By way of the win, Sweden earned the right to advance to the gold medal game against the Russians.

 United States 12, Latvia 2

 If one needed proof that the Americans don’t belong in the relegation pool, that proof was provided in spades today.  The Americans started the game with a quick Austin Watson hat-trick (he would add four assists before the end of the contest) and then cruised to an 11-1 lead before easing off the gas in the third period.  Watson’s line led the offense; not only did Watson pick up three goals and seven points but line-mate Nick Bjugstad scored three times and the line as a whole combined for 16 points.

On the Latvian side, Teodors Blugers won player of the game honours – not only did he score the Latvians’ one goal and assist on the other, he was the lone player on the team to finish plus-1.  For the United States, the win guarantees that they will not be relegated (as their game against Denmark carries over to this round).  The loser of the Latvia/Denmark game one Wednesday will be demoted, making it as close to a gold medal game as either team was going to get in this tournament.

Around the Rink

 Valeri Bragin wished afterward that he had switched goaltenders earlier, but it’s easy to see why he waited.  Vasilevski’s performance through 40 minutes against Canada marked him as the best goaltender in the tournament, the kind of player every coach wants to cut a bit of slack.  The decision to switch to Makarov ultimately proved decisive in the outcome of the game.

  • Like Vasilevski, Andrei Makarov is undrafted, but unlike Vasilevski (who is touted as a probable first-round selection in the 2012 Draft) Makarov is an over-ager who simply hasn’t been selected yet.  His WHL season to date has been tremendous, and the Saskatoon Blades have really suffered in his absence.
  • The Canadians won 45 of 78 face-offs against the Russians, but that’s a misleading stat.  Freddie Hamilton won 18 of the 22 that he took; the rest of the team went just 27 for 56.
  • Evgeni Kuznetsov, who had a dominant performance against Latvia but hadn’t scored much in Russia’s other contests, had a hat-trick and won player of the game honours for the Russians.  Bragin afterward talked about how pleased he was with his captain’s performance.
  • Will the Canadians come to play for bronze?  Don Hay certainly seemed to think so, and his players said all the right things on that topic after the game, but the aura of disappointment around Team Canada was completely unmitigated by the comeback attempt, and only time will tell.
  • Many of the same things could be said about the Finns, who were obviously crushed to blow a late lead and be sent to the bronze medal game rather than the tournament’s ultimate contest; captain Mikael Granlund simply wasn’t able to even think about playing for the bronze in the aftermath of their loss in that game.
  • Russia and Sweden have already played against each other, in the final game of the ‘A’ pool’s round robin segment.  Russia took a 3-0 lead early on, but ended up losing as the Swedes’ scored three goals in the third before scoring their fourth in overtime.  It was an exceptionally tight game, and one would expect precisely the same from the tournament’s finale.

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