QUEBEC CITY (Reuters) - Canada may be hosting the hockey world championships but arch-rivals Russia have made themselves at home in Quebec City.
While Canada cruised through the round-robin stage and quarter-finals unbeaten in Halifax, Russia were doing the same in Quebec City, which will host Friday’s semi-finals, Saturday’s bronze medal contest and the title game on Sunday.
Canada will face Olympic champions Sweden while Russia meet Finland in the other semi-final match.
It will mark the third consecutive year Canada and Sweden have clashed in the semi-finals.
Bidding to become the first hosts to claim the title since the Soviet Union in 1986, Canada has not lost at the worlds since losing to Finland in the bronze medal playoff in 2006, stringing together 16 consecutive victories.
After their traditional slow start to the tournament, the Canadians have stormed into the last four on 10-1, 6-3, 8-2 wins.
The champions have allowed the fewest goals and, led by the Ottawa Senators’ Dany Heatley and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Rick Nash, are the top scorers.
With so much firepower to defuse, Sweden’s success will depend on team play and the work of New York Rangers Henrik Lundqvist in net.
“They are a great team but anything can happen in one game,” said Lundqvist, a Vezina trophy finalist as the NHL’s top netminder. “They have great talent but I am not sure they play better as a team and that is our strength.”
Certainly this is not unfamiliar territory for the Swedes, who have made the semi-finals every year since 2001 and three finals, winning the title in 2006, since 2003.
Russia would love nothing better than to end an embarrassing 15-year gold drought by spoiling Canada’s party but first have a score to settle with Finland, who ended Russia’s gold medal hopes with a 2-1 semi-final overtime win last year in Moscow.
The Russians enter the semi-finals with an explosive attack led by NHL scoring champion and MVP nominee Alexander Ovechkin and a defense anchored by another Vezina trophy finalist Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks.
They will take on a Finnish squad that focuses on defense and has done just enough to win, with five of their victories coming by a single goal.
“It proves we can win tight games and have enough depth to score the goals,” said Finnish veteran Teemu Selanne.
“We know we can’t start any scoring race against the Russians but as a team we know how good we can be and we know if we can play at our level we can beat anybody.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury