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World Cup of Hockey

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin to meet in semifinal

Matchup of Penguins, Team Canada forwards vs. Team Russia defense among keys to game

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

TORONTO -- If there is one team that understands how the pressure of playing at home in a tournament like the World Cup of Hockey 2016 can be crushing, it would be Team Russia.

Eight of the players on Team Russia also were on the team that competed at the 2014 Sochi Olympics on home soil, a team that lost 3-1 to Finland in the quarterfinals and failed to medal on home ice.

It was a crushing blow, but now Team Russia has an opportunity to do the same thing to Team Canada in their semifinal on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN2, CBC, TVA, TVA Sports).

Team Russia forward Vladimir Tarasenko, however, doesn't think that pressure will get to Team Canada.

"I know how it feels because we played in Sochi and when everybody expects you to in it gives you a lot of pressure," he said after Team Russia defeated Team Finland on Thursday to set up the semifinal matchup against Team Canada. "But I don't think it bothers Team Canada because they have really experienced players and I don't think there's a reason to think a lot about Canada. We need to think about us and be ready on Saturday."

The outcome of the latest chapter in this historic hockey rivalry likely will hinge on these five matchups:

 

1. Team Canada's forwards vs. Team Russia's defense

The names come at you in waves, and you can be left to marvel at just how much talent Team Canada has up front. The four lines are centered by Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan O'Reilly. In case Team Canada needs any other centers, it has Patrice Bergeron, John Tavares, Steven Stamkos, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Matt Duchene playing on the wings.

The scariest thing about this group is that coach Mike Babcock has found the right line combinations and has stuck with them almost since Day One of training camp on Sept. 5, making minor tweaks here and there but by and large allowing the groups to build chemistry.

Team Russia's defense widely has been considered the weakness of the roster. Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, Dmitry Kulikov, Dmitry Orlov, Nikita Zaitsev and Alexey Marchenko have a difficult job on their hands, but the group has performed better than people expected in the tournament thus far.

Perhaps the six defensemen can prove people wrong one more time.

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

 

2. The special teams battle

This is another case of Team Canada's strength taking on Team Russia's weakness.

Team Russia has not scored a power-play goal in the tournament, going 0-for-8 in three games and generating six shots on goal. A team featuring the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Tarasenko should be able to do better, but this is a longstanding problem for Team Russia, which went 3-for-19 with the man-advantage in Sochi.

It's not likely to get better against Team Canada, which has not allowed a power-play goal in this tournament and has had a perfect penalty kill in its past eight games in best-on-best tournaments. The last time Canada's penalty kill allowed a goal was its opening preliminary-round game against Norway in Sochi.

 

3. Sergei Bobrovsky vs. Carey Price

Bobrovsky very nearly stole Team Russia's final pretournament game against Team Canada on Sept. 14 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. He made 45 saves and forced Team Canada to go to overtime to get a 3-2 win.

Bobrovsky has a .948 save percentage in three games in the World Cup and is coming off a shutout of Team Finland.

At the other end of the ice will be Price, a source of doubt entering the tournament because it was his first game action since he sprained the MCL in his right knee on Nov.25.

Those doubts have been erased, with Price making saves on 61 of 63 shots in two starts.

Price probably won't need to steal the game against Team Russia, but he might have to prevent Bobrovsky from doing so.

Video: FIN@RUS: Bobrovsky denies Granlund on the doorstep

 

4. Conflicting histories

Canada's recent history is about nothing but winning. It did it in Russia in 2014. It did it in Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

All Team Canada has to do is make sure that continues.

Team Russia, on the other hand, has to overcome a history of disappointment. This core group of players lost its first elimination game at the Vancouver and Sochi Olympics.

This is Team Russia's first elimination game of the World Cup.

 

5. Oh yeah, Sid vs. Geno

It is always tempting to make Crosby vs. Ovechkin a dominant storyline because their careers will forever be linked. But it is the battle between Crosby and his Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Evgeni Malkin that will have a greater impact on the outcome.

Crosby's line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand has been Team Canada's most consistent and has combined to score five goals in three games.

Malkin scored his first goal of the tournament against Team Finland. He also has an assist but has looked disinterested at times. Team Russia will need more from him if it hopes to defeat Team Canada.

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