Canada scored once in each of the first two periods and then played a dangerous game of sitting on the lead in the third, but the 2-0 score held up.
Taylor Hall and Jason Spezza, the top scorer in the tournament with 14 points, got the goals, and Mike Smith earned his second straight shutout as Canada advanced to its first gold-medal game since 2009 with an impressive 2-0 win over hosts Czech Republic. Canada will play the winner of the Russia-United States game tonight.
The Czechs will play the loser of tonight’s game in the bronze-medal game tomorrow afternoon. They were buoyed by the arrival of Tomáš Plekanec from Montreal. He fired seven of the team’s 26 shots but couldn’t connect on any.
Jaromír Jágr, the team’s leading scorer with six goals, was ineffective tonight.
“JJ is definitely a key part of their team,” Canada’s Ryan O’Reilly said of Jágr. “We kept him on the outside. That was a key part of our tactic. But he’s a talented player and a couple of times he had us back on our heels a bit. All five of our guys in our own end were working hard to make sure they couldn’t get him the puck so much.”
The win was a tale of two teams for Canada. In the first two periods, the Canadians peppered goalie Ondřej Pavelec with 35 shots and forced him to make several great saves. In the third, Canada made little effort to score.
It was a dangerous strategy, one that backfired badly in the 2008 gold-medal game on home ice when it took a 3-1 lead into the third, let the Russians attack, and lost 4-3 in overtime.
Fast forward to Sochi where the team started defensive play behind the Sweden icing line and dominated in a 3-0 win.
Today, the Czechs spent much of the third period in Canada’s end and were unlucky not to score.
“We said before that we can’t score our way out of wins,” Spezza noted. “Some night we have to defend our way to wins. Tonight after we got the two goals we sat back, defended, and kept them to the outside.”
Hall concurred. “We don’t want to sit back as much as we did in that third period. I thought we let them come at us a lot. But that’s the way the game goes, and ultimately we got the win.”
A wild first period saw only one goal and several sensational scoring chances at both ends of the ice. Hall hit the post off a Czech turnover, and Smith made a great save on Plekanec from the slot.
The opening goal came in the blink of an eye on a great series of plays. Defenceman Patrick Wiercioch got the puck up to Sidney Crosby at centre, and Crosby then hit Jordan Eberle with a sensational pass to send him in the clear.
As he was hounded, he dished the puck off to Hall, who had the open net, making it 1-0 Canada at 8:40.
“It was huge. Huge,” Aaron Ekblad said of the opening tally. “Obviously, we wanted to get off to a good start, and getting that first goal is huge. Holding on for the rest of the game is also very important. It was just a good game all around. Almost every player on the team had a great game. That’s all you can ask for.”
“It was an empty-net goal,” Pavelec lamented. “It was a mistake. That’s what the big players do. They were waiting and waiting. We were better, but they make a play and score a goal.”
The rest of the period was up and down, and if defence was lax it was only because the skill and speed of the forwards was so effective. Smith made a terrible giveaway playing the puck, but Martin Zaťovič blasted it wide of the open net.
Canada handled the pro-Czech crowd with the poise and calm one would expect of an experienced roster. Pavelec had to make his best save of the period with a toe stop off a quick Ryan O’Reilly shot, and he followed with a great blocker save off a Spezza shot.
Cody Eakin hit the crossbar in the dying seconds after tremendous pressure in the Czech zone for a minute. Despite some Czech moments, Canada held a significant 19-10 shots advantage in the first.
The only reason Canada didn’t blow the game open in the middle period was Pavelec, who made one great save after another. Before he took over, though, he got some help on the first power play of the game, for Canada.
Crosby had an empty net to the side but Jiří Novotný dove to poke the puck off Crosby’s stick, saving a sure goal. Moments later, Tyler Ennis deflected a Brent Burns shot that went of the post yet again.
Canada made it 2-0 on a nice play by Spezza. He used a toe drag, then wired a low shot between the legs of defender Jakub Krejčík and though Pavelec’s pads.
“When they scored to make it 2-0 it took the air from us,” admitted Michal Jordán. “If we had scored earlier, it might be a different game.”
In fact, the Czechs thought they scored at 18:26. Jordán’s shot beat Smith, but the referee ruled Petr Koukal was in the crease at the time.
In the final minute Pavelec made three incredible saves. First, a right pad stop off Spezza from the doorstep, then a similar stop off Ennis, and finally a snaring glove grab off a wicked shot from Tyler Seguin. Shots were now double for Canada, 35-18.
But in the third, Canada was content to allow the Czechs to move the puck into its end. Although they were tenacious, one bounce or break could have given the Czechs life.
“Last game we won with a scoring effort,” noted Canada’s coach, Todd McLellan. “Tonight we won with a checking effort. We didn’t want to just be a checking team in the third, and maybe we did a bit too much checking. Hopefully that’s good for us going forwards to the final game.”
IHLC: With the victory, Canada retains the International Hockey Lineal Championship, their 60th title, which they captured from Sweden in Preliminary Round play, and retained against France, Switzerland, Austria and Belarus in the Quarterfinal. Despite the long hockey history between these two nations, this is the first IHLC meeting between these two in ten years and one day, their last meeting being the Gold Medal Game of the 2005 World Championships, which the Czechs won 3-0 to capture their 11th world title. Canada will now face the winner of the Russia-United States semifinal, with the unification of Gold Medal and IHLC on the line.
08:40 – GOAL – Hall (Eberle, Crosby)
22:19 – PEN – Čáslava, holding
29:02 – GOAL – Spezza (Duchene, Hamhuis)
31:28 – PEN – Koukal, hooking
32:03 – PEN – Hall, high sticking
35:58 – PEN – Spezza, slashing
W: Smith (23-23)
L: Pavelec (39-41)
SHOTS ON GOAL
19+16+6 = 41
10+8+5 = 23
Goaltenders: Martin Jones, Mike Smith. Defence: Tyson Barrie, Brent Burns, Aaron Ekblad, Dan Hamhuis (A), Jake Muzzin, David Savard, Patrick Wiercioch. Forwards: Sean Couturier, Sidney Crosby (C), Matt Duchene, Cody Eakin, Jordan Eberle, Tyler Ennis, Claude Giroux, Taylor Hall, Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza (A), Tyler Toffoli.
Goaltenders: Ondřej Pavelec, Alexander Salák. Defence: Petr Čáslava, Jan Hejda (A), Michal Jordán, Jan Kolář, Jakub Krejčík, Jakub Nakládal, Ondřej Němec. Forwards: Roman Červenka, Martin Erat, Jaromír Jágr (A), Jakub Klepiš, Petr Koukal, Jan Kovář, Jiří Novotný, Tomáš Plekanec, Dominik Simon, Vladimír Sobotka, Michal Vondrka, Jakub Voráček (C), Martin Zaťovič.