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Team Russia

Alex Ovechkin, Team Russia eager to play Team Canada

Expect 'unbelievable' atmosphere at Air Canada Centre for semifinal

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Team Russia already spoiled one party at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. Now, it would love to ruin it for the host too.

Team Russia clinched second place in Group B with a 3-0 victory against Team Finland in its final preliminary-round game at Air Canada Centre on Thursday. It advances to the semifinals to face Team Canada, the Group A winner, in a showdown between longtime rivals Saturday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN2, CBC, TVA, TVA Sports).

"It's going to be like in Russia when we played in [the 2014 Sochi Olympics]," Team Russia captain Alex Ovechkin said. "Everybody is going to be crazy. The atmosphere's going to be unbelievable. It's going to be a great match to play and be involved in and be in the stands and be on TV to watch this kind of rivalry."

By defeating Team Finland, Team Russia eliminated Team North America, which had become the darlings of the tournament with its youthful, aggressive play and had many in Toronto rooting for it to advance to the semifinals. But Team Russia took care of business with a thorough performance against Team Finland, getting goals from Vladimir Tarasenko, Ivan Telegin and Evgeni Malkin, and a 21-save shutout from Sergei Bobrovsky.

Although each finished 2-1-0 in Group B, Team Russia defeated Team North America 4-3 on Monday, so it won the tiebreaker, sending the talented team of 23-or-younger players home.

If Team Russia took any pleasure in that, its players weren't saying.

"No time to celebrate," Tarasenko said.

Video: FIN@RUS: Malkin snaps the puck in past Rask

That's because Team Russia knows the difficult challenge it has ahead against Team Canada. The last time the countries played in a best-on-best competition, at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Canada eliminated Russia in the quarterfinals with a 7-3 rout. The teams did not play each other in Sochi, where Russia was eliminated by Finland in the quarterfinals.

Russia's last win against Canada in a best-on-best tournament was a 2-0 victory in the quarterfinals of the 2006 Torino Olympics. Ovechkin was 20 at the time, and Team Canada captain Sidney Crosby was 18 and wasn't selected for the Olympic team.

After failing to win a medal at the past three Olympics, a victory against Team Canada in Canada would be a significant step for Russia.

"It's always nice to play against Canada," center Evgeny Kuznetsov said. "The whole world knows the best players play here, and they are always the favorite in every tournament. So, what we have to do is just accept the challenge and hope that it will work out."

Team Russia's chances of reaching the semifinals appeared slim after it lost 2-1 in its World Cup opener against Team Sweden on Sunday. But it rebounded the next day against Team North America and knew entering the game Thursday that all it needed to do was win to finish second in Group B and advance.

"Obviously, it was a tough position after the first game," Ovechkin said. "We played against a very good team like North America, a talented, young, speed team, but we beat them and it gave us a little bit extra emotions, extra time to think what we had to do against Finland."

Video: FIN@RUS: Tarasenko finishes nice pass from Ovechkin

Team Russia was missing center Pavel Datsyuk on Thursday because of a lower-body injury but played a complete team game in front of Bobrovsky. After a scoreless first period, Ovechkin set up Tarasenko for a tap into an empty net 3:42 into the second period to give Team Russia the lead.

Telegin's goal 1:19 later put Team Russia up by two. Team Finland had a few decent scoring chances, but Team Russia was in complete control after that.

"You can see we get closer every shift and we find some chemistry between the players," Kuznetsov said. "Always when you win, your team is going to feel more confidence. It's always nice when you make some plays and you can see guys happy."

Kuznetsov and Tarasenko were part of the Russia team that came back from three goals down in the third period to defeat Canada 5-3 in the gold-medal game of the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo. Also on that team were Team Russia defenseman Dmitry Orlov and forward Artemi Panarin.

Kuznetsov and Team Russia teammates Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Nesterov were part of the team that defeated Canada again the next year in the World Junior Championship gold-medal game in Calgary.

So, those players know what it's like to have success against Canada on a smaller stage.

"I think this is one of the greatest rivalries ever, Canada against Russia," Tarasenko said. "I didn't think about it yet because the game today is just over. Now, we have the day tomorrow to prepare for Canada. We know how they play because we played [a pretournament game] in Pittsburgh before the World Cup. They have a really, really good team with real good players, the best players in the world, so we need to be good in a couple of days."

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