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Team Russia laments loss to Team Canada

After leading World Cup semifinal, gives up four goals in row

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Through two periods of its World Cup of Hockey 2016 semifinal against Team Canada on Saturday, Team Russia believed it could win.

Despite being outshot 33-15 at that point, the game was tied, mostly because of the goaltending of Sergei Bobrovsky, and Team Russia was in position to pull off an upset.

But it all unraveled in the third period, and Team Canada pulled away for a 5-3 victory at Air Canada Centre, leaving Team Russia in a familiar position.

Maybe this wasn't the same as Russia's 7-3 loss to Canada in the quarterfinals of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics because that game was never competitive, but it was another best-on-best tournament when it came up short against one of its biggest rivals.

"It's hard because everybody knew we could beat them," Team Russia captain Alex Ovechkin said. "Everybody had that feeling and, in the locker room when it was tied, it was positive, nothing was [negative]."

Having a roster loaded with skill at forward -- Ovechkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Evgeni Malkin, Nikita Kucherov, Artemi Panarin and Evgeni Kuznetsov -- wasn't enough to get Team Russia to the World Cup final, just as it wasn't enough to get past the quarterfinals in the past two Olympics.

Although Ovechkin said, "You can't compare this tournament with the Olympic Games," adding this World Cup semifinal loss to three consecutive Olympics without a medal leaves a long gap since Russia enjoyed any kind of success against the world's top players.

"You can't say [it was a good tournament] because you didn't win," Kuznetsov said. "If you're Russian, you always want to win. I know we lost too many years in a row, but I think we have young guys and it was a great experience for us and we will be better, for sure."

Team Russia has a lot of hope for the future with Kuznetsov, 24; Tarasenko, 24; Panarin, 24; and Kucherov, 23; but its biggest weakness remains its defense, which Team Canada exposed repeatedly. Young defensemen Dmitry Orlov, 25; Nikita Zaitsev, 24; and Alexey Marchenko, 24; struggled along with veterans Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin and Dmitry Kulikov.

Team Russia turnovers in the defensive zone led to Team Canada's first two goals and numerous high-quality scoring chances that Bobrovsky snuffed out. Spending so much time in the defensive zone against Team Canada's relentless pressure left Team Russia's skilled forwards with few opportunities to generate a sustained attack in the offensive zone until later in the third period when Team Canada was protecting a three-goal lead.

"[Bobrovsky] saved us too many times, and I think we had to help him, but we didn't," Kuznetsov said.

Somehow, Team Russia led 2-1 after Kuznetsov batted in a puck from in front with 3:36 remaining in the second period. But two Team Russia icings followed by a defensive-zone turnover by Markov led to Brad Marchand's tying goal 1:12 later.

"It's just experience, because I think we have some new guys on the team, and you can see Kucherov, Kuznetsov, Orlov, all those guys played well." Ovechkin said. "Bobrovsky was unbelievable again. We were close, but not close enough."

It was another frustrating game for Ovechkin under the international spotlight. He was limited to one shot on goal -- on one attempt -- and was invisible for long stretches while Team Canada captain Sidney Crosby was dominant with a goal and two assists.

Video: Crosby, Marchand lead Canada to 5-3 win over Russia

Team Russia's power play went 0-for-3 with two shots on goal, including two failed opportunities in the first period. It was 0-for-11 with eight shots on goal in the tournament.

"There's just too many good players and we didn't find a way," Kuznetsov said. "But that's our bad and I take that."

Despite being dominated for long stretches, Team Russia believed Team Canada was beatable. It still does.

"We do not think that [Canada] is unbeatable," Team Russia coach Oleg Znarok said. "The time will come for us."

Ovechkin said the key is, "Don't be afraid to play against them. We play all the time against those players in the NHL."

Ovechkin went on to lament bounces that went Team Canada's way on its goals before acknowledging, "You can talk about luck, but you can't make those mistakes against those teams. They're going to use it. They have skill, they have talent, they have confidence and they have experience."

Whenever the next best-on-best tournament is played, Markov, who is 37, and 38-year-old Pavel Datsyuk, who sat out again Saturday with a lower-body injury, will likely be retired. Ovechkin, 31, and Malkin, 30, will probably be around but are nearing the end of their primes.

Eventually, it will be up to Tarasenko, Kuznetsov, Kucherov and Panarin to carry the torch and find a way to win one of these tournaments.

"I don't have an explanation right now," Markov said. "It's not easy. There are so many teams, so many players that become better and better. It's a big competition and we need to learn from that and next time be better."

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