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Reasons for Optimism

Team Russia in position to upset in semifinal

Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky could help end Canada's 13-game win streak at World Cup

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / Managing Editor

One of the great rivalries in international sports resumes when Team Russia and Team Canada play in the first semifinal game of the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN2, CBC, TVA, TVA Sports).

The game is being played exactly 46 years after Canada began its comeback in the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union. The 3-2 victory at Moscow in Game 6 was the first of three straight wins for Canada, which took the series 4-3-1.

This time, Team Canada goes into the semifinal after sweeping through Group A, winning all three games and outscoring its opposition 14-3. Team Russia finished second in Group B, defeating Team North America 4-3 and Team Finland 3-0 after losing 2-1 to Team Sweden.

Team Canada defeated Team Russia 3-2 in overtime in the final pretournament game for each team.

Here are the reasons for optimism for Team Russia and Team Canada:


Bob is back

No team is going to defeat Team Canada in front of its home fans without a big effort from its goaltender. That's exactly what Team Russia has gotten from Sergei Bobrovsky, who's coming off a shutout against Team Finland on Wednesday and has stopped 91 of 96 shots (.948 save percentage) during the three preliminary-round games, finishing with a 1.68 goals-against average.

Top-level goaltending is a must against the offense Team Canada possesses. Bobrovsky showed during the preliminary round that he's capable of the kind of effort Team Russia will need to win.

The specter of facing the World Cup favorite doesn't faze Bobrovsky.

"If you want to win the tournament," he said, "you're going to face the best."

Video: RUS@NAT: Bobrovsky turns McDavid aside in the 2nd


Peaking at the right time

Team Russia has been getting better with each game. After a 2-1 loss to Team Sweden, it held off Team North America 4-3 and clinched a semifinal berth with a 3-0 victory against Team Finland on Thursday. That earned Team Russia its first trip to the final four of a best-on-best tournament since the 2006 Torino Olympics.

"We worked a lot in practices, we have a lot of meetings," said forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who scored the first goal against Team Finland.


13 and counting

Team Canada was almost flawless during the preliminary round, outscoring its three opponents 14-3 and trailing for all of 1:29 in the three games. The three wins extended Canada's winning streak in best-on-best international competition to 13 since a 5-3 loss to the United States in group play at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Team Canada has no intention of seeing that winning streak end on home ice.

"That's all great but that doesn't matter going into [Saturday], it's all about the next one," said captain Sidney Crosby, one of seven players on Team Canada who's played in all 13 games. "I think the trust and belief is there, it's nice to have that, it's good to have that experience with guys and belief you can play different kind of games and overcome things, but it's only as good as what you do with it. [Saturday] is a big one and none of the other games really matter."

Video: EUR@CAN: Crosby nets wraparound to open scoring

Last line of defense

Before the tournament, there were questions about Team Canada goaltender Carey Price, specifically if the knee injury that ended his NHL season on Nov. 25 had healed. Judging by his play in the preliminary round against Team Czech Republic and Team USA, Price has answered all of those questions.

In his two starts, Price has allowed two goals on 63 shots, a save percentage of .968. He's gotten plenty of help from his teammates, but Price has shown he's back among the elite goaltenders in hockey. 

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