Out of the two games this weekend, Russia vs. Canada is the most anticipated. Sure, it’s nice that Team Europe advanced to square off against Sweden tomorrow. They’re a feel-good story in the same way that Cocoon was, since their average age is close to that of Jessica Tandy’s. Russia vs. Canada, though, that gives yet another opportunity for Sidney Crosby vs. Alexander Ovechkin competition. It’s a tired trope, one that’s probably been put to bed if you’re basing your decision on team trophies over individual, or if you believe that Crosby’s a better complete player than Ovechkin is. One thing that you can’t deny, though, is that playing against each other makes these two players step their game up.
Playing against Russia is something that Canada has a proud history of, going back to the Summit Series. As the rivalry with the United States has waned over recent years due to lack of talent and poor roster construction on the Americans’ part, there’s still animosity between the Russians and Canadians. Russia faltered badly at Sochi in 2014 and even worse in 2010 in Vancouver, but has taken gold in the World Championships four times in the past eight years.
This tournament, Canada has been a dominant force. It took overtime to beat Russia 3-2 in pre-tournament play, but the Canadians have steamrolled the competition, outscoring them 14-3. New Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo netted one of those goals, and Jay Bouwmeester has tallied a helper. Vladimir Tarasenko has two goals for Russia, and finished with a +2 in Russia’s defeat of Finland on Thursday. That gives him one more than Ovechkin in round-robin tournament play.
Who will wind up on top? It comes down to depth, defense, and goaltending, and Canada has those three in spades. This isn’t to sell the Russian team short, but it’s tough to see a scenario where the final for this tournament won’t have a home team flavor.