MANNHEIM, Germany — Team Canada, after failing Tuesday for the third straight game to beat a strong team at the world hockey championship, will need a miracle on ice Thursday to avoid registering the worst Canadian performance since 1992.
Team Canada, which fell 3-2 to Jaromir Jagr and the Czech Republic, will face the superstar-packed Russian team that is desperate — somewhat — to avenge its humiliating 7-3 loss to Canada at the Vancouver Olympics.
Canada has lost all three games to strong teams at this tournament — Sweden, Switzerland and the Czechs — and only made it to the quarter-finals because of easy wins over Latvia, Italy and Norway.
The loss to the Czechs means it was the first time Canada lost three games prior to the quarter-finals since the International Ice Hockey Federation adopted a playoff system for the championship in 1992.
Canada finished eighth that year, losing to Finland in the quarter-final game, 4-3.
While most of Russia’s top players are playing in the tournament, the only Olympic gold medal-winner on Canada is Corey Perry.
“We’re going to have to play a hell of a game on Thursday,” said captain Ray Whitney, who scored a first-period power play goal to put Canada up 1-0 before the Czechs roared back.
Coach Craig MacTavish, who didn’t try to hide his disappointment Sunday at his team’s failure to play with Canadian-style passion against the Swedes, was upbeat after Tuesday’s loss.
“I thought overall our game took a big step forward,” MacTavish said, singling out goalie Chris Mason for bouncing back from a shaky performance Sunday.
He said his players competed hard in a game both he and Czech coach Vladimir Ruzicka described as a competition among “warriors.”
“We didn’t get a lot of luck around the net,” MacTavish said. “That’s the game of hockey, and we’re not dominant enough that we can overcome that against a good opponent at this point.”
But he said Team Canada is ready to tackle the Russians on Thursday, who beat Finland Tuesday to finish 6-0.
“I think there’s no point in the tournament that I’ve felt any better about our team than I do right now.”
The Czechs shrugged off Canada’s early 1-0 lead, which came when Whitney streaked down the right wing and flipped a backhand over Tomas Vokoun.
But the desperate Czechs, who have struggled during the tournament and would have been knocked out with a loss, kept battling and at times were out-hitting the Canadians.
“That’s how Canada plays, and a couple of guys on our team wanted to be physical too, and jump on them and show them that we won’t be pushed around,” said speedy winger Lukas Kaspar, who made one of the key plays of the game.
Canada, with a 1-0 lead but struggling throughout the game on the power play, coughed up a short-handed goal late in the first period when Jiri Novotny took advantage of a miscue by Jordan Eberle in the neutral zone. Novotny slipped a pass to Kaspar, who broke in alone and slipped the puck between Mason’s pads to tie the game 1-1.
The Czechs went ahead midway through the second when defenceman Ondrej Nemec’s wrist shot from the point was tipped in by Jagr.
Jagr drew a penalty late in the crucial second period that led to the winning goal when defenceman Michal Rozsival fed Jakub Klepis, who skated in alone to deke Mason and make it 3-1. That set off a frenzy among the more than 1,000 Czech fans, including hundreds bobbing up and down in unison behind Mason after that goal.
Canada, after pulling Mason to get an extra man, made it 3-2 with just over a minute left in the game when Matt Duchene fired the puck into an empty net while Vokoun was lying prone behind the net after a collision.
That goal triggered one of the many skirmishes, scrums and near-fights throughout the game. The teams had another altercation at the final buzzer.
“Unfortunately for Canada there is no fighting (under IIHF rules), because we’re decent at that,” Whitney quipped after the game.
The Russians beat Finland and the Swedes beat Switzerland Tuesday by 5-0 scores.
The Russians finished on top of the eight-team division playing in Cologne, while Sweden led the group playing in Mannheim with a record of five wins and a single loss.
In addition to the Canada-Russia quarter-final Thursday, Finland faces the Czechs, Sweden meets Denmark and Switzerland plays host Germany.
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