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2004 World Cup: Thriller in Helsinki, Canada Ascendant

By September 4, 2004

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Team Canada wrapped up a week of near-perfect hockey with Saturday's 3-1 win over Russia. Canada finishes the opening round of the World Cup with three wins and no losses, outscoring the opposition 10-3. Now the real work starts.

The playoff round rewards the team that can win three straight all-or-nothing games. Such a format allows little margin for error or bad luck, but one thing is certain: If the Canadians do not win this tournament, it won't be because they weren't good enough.

Meanwhile, the game of the day took place in Helsinki, where Sweden and Finland butted heads and settled the quarterfinal match-ups for the European pool.

The Russians gave Canada a good game, and might have tied it or won it if not for several great saves by goaltender Martin Brodeur. Shots on goal were even at 28 apiece, but Canada's ability to create scoring chances with just about any line combination carried the day again.

Brad Richards finished a short-handed two-on-one by driving home a pass from Simon Gagne. Kris Draper scored on a rebound off a rush by Vincent Lecavalier. The older generation checked in during the third period, when Joe Sakic converted a goalmouth pass from Mario Lemieux.

Sergei Gonchar scored for Russia, on a shot that drifted over Brodeur's shoulder. Maxim Sokolov was the starting goaltender, replacing Ilya Bryzgalov, who was excellent in Russia's win over the USA. Sokolov played a solid game, stopping the Canadians on numerous excellent scoring chances.

Aside from Brodeur's goaltending, the most impressive aspect of the Canadian game might have been the play of the defense. Injuries forced young players like Jay Bouwmeester, Scott Hannan and Robyn Regehr to log considerable ice time, and they looked good doing it.

Quarterfinal match-ups will be determined by Sunday's game between Russia and Slovakia.

While any victory over their traditional rivals is reason to celebrate for Canadian hockey fans, international hockey's most intense rivalry these days might be the one in northern Europe, between Sweden and Finland.

The Scandanavian pair met for a wild one Saturday before a raucous crowd in Helsinki. Tomas Holmstrom scored with 11 seconds left to give Sweden a 4-4 tie. The Swedes pulled their goaltender in overtime - they needed a win to finish first in the European pool - but to no avail.

Six of the games goals came in the first period, as the Finns built a 3-1 lead and the Swedes stormed back to make it 3-3. Finland went ahead again on a second period goal by Olli Jokinen, before Holmstrom tied the game in the dying seconds.

Fred Modin scored twice for Sweden, and leads the tournament with three goals and four assists.

The tie means Finland finishes first in the group, and will host Germany in a quarterfinal game on Monday. The Swedes return to Stockholm, where their quarterfinal game is Tuesday against the Czechs.

Sunday's Game:
7:00 pm ET: Russia vs Slovakia, Air Canada Center, Toronto

Complete World Cup Resources: The schedule, the format, the rosters, the prediction, and more.

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