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Practice Report

Team Russia not scared by Team Canada

Alex Ovechkin, teammates trying to approach World Cup semifinal 'like just one more game'

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- National pride and a spot in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 final being on the line wasn't enough to cause Team Russia captain Alex Ovechkin to lose his sense of humor.

Asked after Team Russia's morning skate about the mood heading into its World Cup semifinal against Team Canada at Air Canada Centre on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN2, CBC, TVA, TVA Sports), Ovechkin said, "It's scary. Everybody's scared right now, man."

Team Russia knows the stakes and the hockey history between the countries, which dates to the 1972 Summit Series. But the players are trying to remain focused on what they need to do to defeat Team Canada.

"I try to [approach it] like just one more game. But it's not one more game," right wing Vladimir Tarasenko said. "This will be a really hard game and we'll try to prepare for it."

Team Russia center Pavel Datsyuk is questionable for the game because of a lower-body injury. Datsyuk participated in the morning skate after sitting out a 3-0 win against Team Finland in its final preliminary-round game Thursday. Saturday was the 38-year-old center's first practice since Wednesday because of the injury.

"Pavel feels better, but you will know the team roster right before the game," Team Russia assistant coach Harijs Vitolinsh said.

Video: RUS@NAT: Kuznetsov skates end-to-end for slick goal

Datsyuk was the extra forward during the morning skate and was paired with extra defenseman Nikita Nesterov during line rushes. He did little during most of the rest of the drills, often skating by himself in the neutral zone.

Evgeny Kuznetsov skated in Datsyuk's spot at center on the top line between Ovechkin and Tarasenko, returning to the spot he played Thursday.

"We'll see [if Datsyuk plays]," Kuznetsov said. "If not, we'll figure out something."

Datsyuk hasn't played since Team Russia's 4-3 win against Team North America on Monday. He assisted on Tarasenko's winning goal and played 18:57, most among Team Russia forwards. He has two assists in two games at the World Cup.

"Pavel is a great player and I think he would help every team in the world," Tarasenko said. "I don't know what the decision is going to be. That's not a question for me."

Team Russia beat Team Finland to clinch a spot in the semifinals without Datsyuk, but will face a tougher challenge against Team Canada, which went 3-0-0 in the preliminary round and outscored its opponents 14-3. Team Russia, which went 2-1-0 in the preliminary round, got a look at Team Canada's speed and depth during 3-2 overtime loss in a pretournament game in at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on Sept. 14.

Team Russia got 45 saves from goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in that game and could need a similar effort Saturday to have a chance to advance to the best-of-3 final against the winner of the semifinal on Sunday between Team Sweden and Team Europe.

Video: FIN@RUS: Bobrovsky kicks out pad to make save

"We just have to help [Bobrovsky] to play his game and don't give them any space around the net and in front of the net because they have big and powerful forwards and they can use [their strength]," Ovechkin said. "We have a plan how we can do a better job in our zone, so we just have to do it."

The game will begin at 2 a.m. on Sunday in Russia, but the players know their home country will be behind them when play in front of a pro-Team Canada crowd at Air Canada Centre.

"Guys like me probably dreamed [about playing] in this game and they want to play in it once in their lifetime," Kuznetsov said. "It's the kind of moment you wait a long time for and all you have to do is just play the hockey."

Kuznetsov, 24, remembers what it was like watching from his home in Chelyabinsk, Russia, when Ilya Kovalchuk scored in overtime to give Russia a 5-4 win against Canada in the final of the 2008 IIHF World Championship in Quebec City, Quebec.

"I remember that feeling. That's an amazing thing," Kuznetsov said. "I remember the next five minutes probably half of my town going outside and just celebrating like happy New Year."

Said Tarasenko: "I think it's the dream of every fan to see the Canada-Russia match and we want to play against Canada too, especially after our loss in Pittsburgh. So we'll just try to be ready for a great hockey game."

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