QUEBEC CITY (Reuters) - Canada beat Olympic champions Sweden 5-4 on Friday to set up a mouth-watering gold medal showdown with long-time rivals Russia at the ice hockey world championship.
Earlier, Evgeni Nabokov made 23 saves to earn the shutout as Russia beat Finland 4-0 and advanced to the title game for just the third time since 1993, when they last won the championship.
Finland will play Sweden for the bronze medal on Saturday.
Champions Canada and Russia both have unbeaten records heading into Sunday’s final game, the two hockey superpowers providing a classic matchup for the International Ice Hockey Federation’s 100th anniversary celebrations.
“There’s a lot of history behind it and I think it’s going to be a great final,” Canada’s Rick Nash told reporters. “They (Russia) are one of the most skilled teams in the tournament, it’s going to be a tough game.”
The Russians once dominated international hockey with the former Soviet Union winning 22 world titles, but since the break-up of the union the “Big Red Machine” has sputtered.
Despite their recent struggles their rivalry with Canada remains hockey’s fiercest.
With the championships being staged in Canada for the first time, Russia would love nothing better than to end their gold drought by spoiling Canada’s party.
Russian dominated their semi-final with Sergei Fedorov, Danis Zaripov, Alexei Morozov and Maxim Sushinskiy each scoring against the Finns while the NHL’s Vezina Trophy finalist Nabokov recorded his second straight shutout.
”I think right now history is not important,“ said NHL scoring champion Alexander Ovechkin. ”If you want to look 30 years ago Russia was winning everything.
“Right now we don’t look at history we just want to play.”
Sweden and Canada were meeting for the third consecutive year in the semi-finals and the Olympic champions made the hosts earn their place.
The Swedes sent a shudder through the sold-out Colisee when Niclas Wallin scored early in the second period to nose in front 2-1, the first time Canada trailed in the tournament.
But Canada responded, breaking open a 3-3 tie with a goal from Nash on a superb individual effort and powerplay strike from Mike Green to take a 5-3 advantage into the third period.
Dany Heatley, Ryan Getzlaf and Jamal Mayers also scored for Canada while Anton Stralman scored twice and Fredrik Warg added a third period goal for the Swedes.
“We had to battle, we were in a hockey game today,” said Getzlaf. “It was definitely the hardest game we played, we expected it and we were playing a top team that was going to battle until the end.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury