By Andrew Podnieks
KHODYNKA--The roads to Quebec City and Halifax are paved with gold after Canada won its third IIHF World Championship in five years and 24th gold all-time tonight by outplaying Finland with clinical precision in the May 13 finale in Moscow.
The score was 4-2, but make no mistake--Canada was in control virtually from the drop of the puck to the final horn. Cam Ward was in net for Canada and made 20 saves for the win. Tournament MVP Rick Nash led the way with two goals.
Canada now goes home to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the IIHF with the daunting task of defending its gold medal on home ice, something that has been done only once before in 72 World Championships. The Soviets won in 1978 in Prague and then defended their title the next year in Moscow. Only four other teams have had a chance to do the same, but none was successful.
The Finns have now lost five important international gold medal games since winning their only World Championship gold in 1995--three World Championships (2001, 1999, 1998), one Olympics (2006), and one World Cup (2004).
Canada's win today was remarkably efficient. You could count on one hand the number of defensive-zone miscues by the Canadians, and on the other hand you could tally the good scoring chances by the Finns and still have fingers left over.
Canada's puck pressure was too much for the opposition, who appeared tired after their emotional 2-1 upset of the Russians the day before. Goalie Kari Lehtonen, who had been so brilliant here in Moscow, had an untimely off-day in the crease, recording 14 saves on 18 Canadian shots.
Canada opened the scoring on the power play thanks to two fine solo efforts by Jordan Staal and Rick Nash. In Staal's case, he deked Toni Soderholm out of his jock on a one-on-one situation, and the Finnish defenceman had no choice but to haul him down and take a penalty. On the ensuing power play, Nash came off the side boards, went straight to the net on his off wing and drilled a great shot off the far post and in past Lehtonen at 6:30.
If Soderholm's penalty was "good" in the sense that he prevented a great scoring chance, the interference penalty that Tuomo Ruutu took at 12:17 was senseless. He knocked down Colby Armstrong who was 30 metres from the puck, and his team paid a dear price for that act.
Justin Williams made a great play at the blueline to bat the puck out of mid-air on a clearing attempt, and the puck landed on Mike Cammalleri's stick. He made a beautiful touch pass to Eric Staal, and his deft deke fooled Lehtonen. The 2-0 deficit after 20 minutes was a serious cause for concern for the Finns. In the last four games, Canada had now outscored the opposition in the first period by an incredible 10-0.
The Canadians had an excellent chance to blow the game open early in the second with a lerngthy 5-on-3, but they came up empty and the Finns, not looking very confident, were still just a shot away from making a game of it.
That all changed when Lehtonen flubbed a routine shot from the top of the circle by Armstrong off a simple drop pass by Jordan Staal. The puck went under his glove, and with the 3-0 lead, Canada looked to have pretty much wrapped up the gold medal. Canada was playing with such poise and was in such control, it seemed impossible that Finland could rally. Lehtonen was having a bad game at the worst possible time. He was not alone among his teammates, though.
The Finns finally generated some momentum with less than 10 minutes to go. Petri Kontiola broke Ward's shutout at 11:08 when he ripped a loose puck past the goalie's glove after the first true bit of sloppiness by the Canadians in their own end.
Finland really made things interesting with a goal at 17:44 off another scrambly play, Antti Miettinen whacking home a loose puck with Ward out of position to cut the deficit to 3-2.
Nash ensured the gold medal with a spectacular goal with 1:06 to go, fighting off defenseman Pekka Saravo on a breakaway and beating Lehtonen with a great deke. It might have been the goal of the tournament.
NOTES: Although the game was sold out, the absence of the home side ensured more empty seats than usual...Jonathan Toews became the first Canadian to win gold at both the World Juniors and World Championships in the same year...Canada now owns four of the five major world titles--World champions, World Junior champions, World Women's, and Olympic women's...the success of Steve Yzerman's first foray as a general manager at the national level greatly increases the likelihood that his name will be added to the mix for possible 2010 Olympic candidates...with the gold medal victory, Canada leapfrogs over Finland in the World Rankings. Canada is now second and the Finns third...