Pressed to the max by a never-say-die Czech Republic squad that threatened to ruin their World Cup party, Canada dug deep into its collective heart and soul Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre, advancing to the finals of the World Cup of Hockey Saturday night with a 4-3 overtime win over the Czechs.
The battle for the World Cup takes place Tuesday night as Canada gets a couple days to regroup before taking on Finland.
Vincent Lecavalier was the offensive hero for the Canadians, scoring on a great individual effort at 3:45 of overtime.
Surviving tremendous pressure by the Czechs, Canada struck when the puck came to Ryan Smyth at the left point and he put a shot on the Czech net that was stopped by goalie Tomáš Vokoun. The goalie then sprawled to make a huge stop on Lecavalier’s first attempt. Lecavalier fanned on his second try, but the Tampa Bay Lightning centre made sure the next attempt, from a wide angle, found pay dirt and sent the Air Canada Centre into a frenzy.
“I knew I didn’t have much time,” Lecavalier said. “And I knew I had to go high. With the angle I had, I was pretty lucky.
“It was a great team effort tonight to carry us to the finals.”
Lecavalier was the offensive hero, but goalie Roberto Luongo, starting for the injured Martin Brodeur, earned plenty of attention as he overcame the suffocating pressure of the game, especially in the third period and early in overtime when it seemed like just a matter of time before the Czechs would win it.
In fact, moments before Lecavalier scored the winner, Luongo denied Milan Hejduk from in close, a save at one end that sparked the offensive heroics at the other. In all, Luongo made 37 saves as Canada was out-shot 40-24.
“Roberto played unbelievable,” Kris Draper said. “He was huge for us.”
He may well have been the difference on a night when Canada wasn’t very sharp in the estimation of their coach.
“We escaped,” Pat Quinn said. “I saw tentativeness in our team tonight. I’m not sure why. We sure didn’t have the focus we needed to have. We did not execute very well, but a lot of that was the play of the Czechs.
“We were fortunate to have survived,” Quinn said. “The Czechs played really well. They out-chanced us by quite a margin.”
The loss marked a disappointing end for the Czechs, who rebounded mightily in the tournament after losing the first two games of the preliminary round to Finland and Sweden. But in the quarterfinals, the Czechs ousted the Swedes to advance to last night’s games.
“I’m satisfied with the performance we showed tonight,” Czech coach Vladimir Růžička said. “The game was very good. We showed excellent play, but Canada was more lucky in overtime.”
The Czechs put relentless pressure on the Canadians in the third period and were rewarded with a tie, but there were plenty of heart-stopping moments along the way.
A holding penalty on Lecavalier at 6:40 proved costly to the Canadians as the Czechs notched a power-play goal by Martin Havlát at 7:21 to tie the score, 2-2.
The power-play goal by Havlát came as he ripped home the rebound of a Tomáš Kaberle point shot and brought the Czechs all the way back from a 2-0 deficit.
Dany Heatley had a glorious chance to restore the Canadian lead at 7:52, breaking in alone on Vokoun, who sprawled at the last second, doing a snow angel on the ice and deflecting Heatley attempt wide with his blocker.
Hejduk had a similar wonderful chance at 10:40 when the puck came to him in the slot with time and space, but he went too high and the puck cleared the net.
With the Czechs forcing the issue to the point of exhausting the Canadians, a desperate wrap around the boards by Joe Thronton paid off as Czech defenceman Marek Židlický tried to keep the puck in, only to have it get by him at the blue line and come to Draper who sped into the Czech end and ripped a rising shot over Vokoun’s glove at 13:37 to restore Canada’s lead, 3-2.
Canada’s celebration lasted all of six seconds as the Czechs pushed the centre-ice faceoff into the Canadian end, confusing Canada’s defencemen, who both took Havlát, allowing Patrik Eliáš to send a 30-footer past Luongo, who appeared to be screened.
Screened or not, the damage was done and Canada’s late lead had evaporated like the two-goal edge it earned in the second period.
The pace in the second period was fast and furious as skated out to a 2-1 lead despite being out-shot 14-9.
Canada raised the stakes in the second, becoming much more aggressive offensively, drawing the puck in close to the Czech net and then bringing its defencemen barreling down the slot for scoring chances.
Eric Brewer, Jay Bouwmeester and Scott Niedermayer each had great scoring chances off this tactic, but were unable to convert. But one of these chances finally clicked for Canada at 11:15, resulting in a 1-0 lead off a goal by Brewer.
Canada gained control of the puck in the Czech end, with Joe Thornton holding the puck along the left-wing boards. He spotted Kris Draper behind the net and moved the puck down low. Not pressed by the Czechs, Draper spotted Brewer charging in from the point and his pass was dead on for Brewer to rip past Vokoun.
The Czechs roared right back to test Luongo, with Eliáš getting a testing shot on net, but the more dangerous opportunity belonged to David Výborný on the rebound, but he fired wide.
A tripping penalty on Jiří Fischer at 12:29 proved costly to the Czechs as Mario Lemieux scored his first goal of the tournament, banging home a rebound off a determined Canadian power-play flurry at 14:25. Lecavalier and Brad Richards collected assists on the goal.
With the sellout crowd of 19,273 roaring its approval, Canada appeared on the verge of turning the contest into a rout, but a weird goal against Luongo halved the lead at 15:07.
Petr Čajánek, standing wide to Luongo’s left on the goal line, sent what appeared to be a “why not?” shot in front of the Canadian net and the puck hit the right skate of Luongo and slipped into the net, and quieting the arena instantly.
Luongo shook off whatever butterflies were flying around his stomach as he skated from the following the first period having stopped all 10 shots he faced in the scoreless first period.
Luongo got the nod when Canada stalwart Martin Brodeur was scratched from the lineup with a bruised hand.
Luongo was solid in net, stopping a handful of testing drives from the Czechs, who obviously figured putting some early heat on the Canadian net was the way to go in this one.
One of the leading culprits for the Czechs was Jaromír Jágr, who didn’t show any ill-effects from the surmised stomach muscle ailment that had cast doubt about his ability to compete Saturday night.
Instead, Jágr was the Czech’s best player and nearly broke the scoreless tie at 7:45 when his high backhand from the inner rim of the left circle was deflected away.
Canada did a fair measure of buzzing around the Czech net, but were unable to mount much of a direct effect until later in the period. At 8:55, Richards sent a blind backhand pass from the left-wing boards that went all the way to the right-wing boards without coming into contact with a player from either team.
Midway through the period, Heatley had an excellent scoring change after Lecavalier’s drive from in close was blocked and came to Heatley, who was denied by Vokoun, who also stopped a follow-up shot by Martin St-Louis.
The Czechs did an excellent job of breaking up Canadian rushes in the opening period, adroitly getting a stick or body on a pass to blunt a Canadian foray.
Luongo was tested with just 1:11 remaining in the first when Jágr got a stride on Draper and wheeled into shooting position on the lower rim of the right circle, forcing Luongo to make a good save.
Heatley capped off a Canadian flurry with just 38 seconds left in the period, testing Vokoun from in close, but Iginla couldn’t solve the Nashville Predator goalie.
31:15 – 🇨🇦 GOAL – Brewer (Draper, Thornton)
32:29 – 🇨🇿 PEN – Fischer, tripping
34:25 – 🇨🇦 PP GOAL – Lemieux (Lecavalier, Richards)
35:07 – 🇨🇿 GOAL – Čajánek (Hejduk, Ručinský)
46:40 – 🇨🇦 PEN – Lecavalier, holding
47:21 – 🇨🇿 PP GOAL – Havlát (Kaberle, Hejduk)
53:47 – 🇨🇦 GOAL – Draper (Thornton)
53:53 – 🇨🇿 GOAL – Eliáš (Havlát)
63:45 – 🇨🇦 GOAL – Lecavalier (Smyth)
W: 🇨🇦 Luongo (37-40)
L: 🇨🇿 Vokoun (20-24)
SHOTS ON GOAL
🇨🇦 7+9+7+1 = 24
🇨🇿 10+14+11+5 = 40
🇨🇦 Goaltenders: Roberto Luongo, José Théodore. Defence: Jay Bouwmeester, Eric Brewer, Adam Foote, Scott Hannan, Scott Niedermayer, Robyn Regehr. Forwards: Shane Doan, Kris Draper, Simon Gagné, Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, Vincent Lecavalier, Mario Lemieux (C), Brad Richards, Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth, Martin St-Louis, Joe Thornton.
🇨🇿 Goaltenders: Roman Čechmánek, Tomáš Vokoun. Defence: Jiří Fischer, Roman Hamrlík, Tomáš Kaberle, Marek Malík, Jaroslav Špaček, Marek Židlický. Forwards: Petr Čajánek, Jiří Dopita, Radek Dvořák, Patrik Eliáš, Martin Havlát, Milan Hejduk, Jaromír Jágr, Václav Prospal, Robert Reichel (C), Martin Ručinský, Martin Straka, David Výborný.
|🇨🇦 CANADA (C)||vs.||CZECHIA 🇨🇿|
(since 25 Aug 2004)
||05 May 2004|
(+ 7 ties)
|First IHLC Meeting (CAN vs. CZE)
🇨🇦 CAN 15-0 TCH 🇨🇿 – 24 Apr 1920 – OG – Antwerp 🇧🇪
|Previous IHLC Meeting (CAN vs. CZE)
🇨🇿 CZE 6-2 CAN 🇨🇦 – 03 May 2004 – WC – Prague 🇨🇿
|Last IHLC Game
🇨🇦 CAN 5-0 SVK 🇸🇰 – 08 Sep 2004 – WCH – Toronto 🇨🇦
|Next IHLC Game
🇨🇦 CAN 3-2 FIN 🇫🇮 – 14 Sep 2004 – WCH – Toronto 🇨🇦 🏅