Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Game 5: Canada-Russia Super Series

The Canada-Russia Super Series resumes tonight in Winnipeg. After sweeping all four games in Russia, Team Canada has the chance to clinch the series tonight. Sergei Nemchinov has added three new Russian players to his roster, and he hopes to give the Canadians a run for their money. Will Team Russia be successful in their bid to tie the Series, or will they lose it all tonight? Will Canada overcome jet lag and play a hard hitting game in front of a home crowd? And can Bernier keep his shutout streak going for another three periods of hockey?

Given the atmosphere created by the fans, one would have sworn that the home team had just won the Stanley Cup. With 5 minutes to go in the third, only thing the Winnipeg fans were cheering was 'Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye!' - and with good reason, since their hockey youngsters just won the Super Series with an 8-1 victory over the Russians.

The physical tone was established in the first minute of play, with Boychuk laying a huge hit on Russia (and taking a penalty). At first, the Russians were hesitant to play a physical game, but they began to return the favour later on in the opening period. I was actually surprised that things didn’t get really nasty towards the end of the game, but I expect that it will tomorrow night in Saskatoon.

For the fifth straight game, the Canadian goaltending has been solid. Bernier gave up just one power play goal in the second period, primarily due to the defence’s inability to clear the puck. Bernier made some incredible saves and really showed his skills and athleticism as a goalie, but what stuck out for me was his mental game. He was involved in a nasty collision with Russian defender Vishnevsky late in the first period that left Bernier on the ice for a few minutes, but he bounced right back and turned in a stellar performance.

During the first intermission, I doubt that any person watching this game would have thought that Canada would win the game by such a large margin, since all that was up on the scoreboard were a couple of big, fat goose eggs. It wasn’t that either team didn’t have any chances, because there were 9 shots on goal for each team; the difference makers in the period were the goalies (especially Bobrovsky, as the Canadians had many more scoring chances than the Russians). The second frame was a little more of an offensive show, with the Russians scoring their lone goal on the power play, and Canada netting five goals: three power play tallies, one shortie, and one at even strength. The third period saw another three goals (one being a power play goal) added to the score sheet for Team Canada.

This Super Series has been a coming out party for so many of these young players. Gagner is one of the four players returning from last year’s World Junior’s squad and he is proving that he is a much better player now than he was in January. He is the leading scorer of the tournament, has his second consecutive three point game, and is a player who is defensively responsible. I would not be surprised to see Gagner suit up for the Oilers this year, as they are in desperate need of scoring and it was just announced that Pisani is out indefinitely with illness.

Giroux had a slow start to the Super Series, but he has definitely been on the upswing since his first goal in Game 3. First, he scored from his knees, a la Sidney Crosby, then assisted on a goal by spinning around on his backside, and now he has a two-goal, three-point game. Not too shabby.

As for Turris, one word: wow. I bet Gretzky is itching to have him in a Coyotes’ uniform, because they’re definitely going to need some scoring.

The Canadians struggled a bit on defence tonight, and this was especially evident on the penalty kill. In the past four games, the defenders were able to clear the zone, but tonight they had a hard time getting the puck out and it led to Russia’s second power play goal of the Super Series. That being said, they still made it hard for the Russians to set up their power play because the Canadians got in their faces, took away the shooting lanes, and blocked the shots.

You really have to give Alzner a lot of credit because he has played so well thus far. He is another player who just may crack his NHL team this season. He, along with Doughty, has played a solid game with very few struggles. Alzner made an amazing play on the PK tonight when he stopped a puck at the goal line – it was thisclose to going into the net.

I was very disappointed with the officiating tonight. There were so many phantom calls on Team Canada. Legein, in particular, was on the referees’ radar; he was called for a trip when he was the one who was tripped, and then he was called for a roughing call that was bogus. On top of things, there were instances when Russia should have gotten a penalty but didn’t. Maybe the referees were trying to help their countrymen out by giving them power plays, but that obviously didn’t work – it only made the Canadians angry.

The one thing that led Canada to certain victory tonight: Special Teams! They accounted for 5 of 8 Team Canada goals.

The one thing that Canada needs to fix for tomorrow night: sloppy defence. They can do better.

My stars of the game:
* Claude Giroux
** Sam Gagner
*** Jonathan Bernier

The Canadians may have won the Series, but they are looking to improve to 8-0 so that Brent Sutter can leave for New Jersey with a 20-0 record in international competition. If the ‘wave’, standing ovation, and incessant cheering in Winnipeg were any indications, Saskatoon, Red Deer, and Vancouver should have amazing atmospheres to energize our boys.

Next face-off is in Saskatoon on Wednesday night at 9PM AT on TSN.

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