Canada played another flawless defensive game and scored enough goals to defeat the Czechs soundly, 5-1. They now advance tomorrow night’s gold-medal game against Finland, their 10th appearance in the finals in the last 17 years. With the loss, the Czechs will play Russia in the bronze-medal game in the afternoon.
Mark Stone had a goal and an assist, and Matt Murray, celebrating his 25th birthday, was virtually unbeatable in Canada’s goal, stopping 40 of 41 shots. But it was team defence that has been just as important in Canada allowing but 14 goals in nine games so far in the tournament.
“It feels good,” Murray said. “I think we’re just thankful for the opportunity to be here and play for our country, and now this opportunity to play for gold is very exciting. That’s what we’re here for.”
“It’s hard to explain,” offered a frustrated Dominik Kubalik of the Czechs. “We couldn’t make a breakout. We put pucks to the net, but we had nobody there. It didn’t go our way. We just need to forget and be ready for tomorrow.”
It can be fairly said that the Czechs were never in this game, checked into the ice by Canada from the opening faceoff. Canada also proved superior in creating scoring chances – and capitalizing on them.
“I think ever since the start of the tournament, we’ve improved every game,” said defenceman Sean Couturier. “We’re getting better and better. We’re feeling pretty good about our team and the way we play. We’ve just got to stick to it.”
“The character of that group we have is huge,” added forward Jonathan Marchessault. “We have a lot of character players, and we have a lot of depth. Everybody can fill big roles. Everybody knows their role. We’re just trying to help each other out there. So far, it’s been going well.”
The Canadians opened the scoring at 5:18 courtesy of a nice play off the rush. Defenceman Troy Stecher got just a step off his man as he rushed the puck over the blue line and fed Mark Stone going to the net.
Stone’s deflection wasn’t hard, but it was to the near post and goalie Patrik Bartosak was moving to the other side. The puck slid just inside the post.
“It was a great play from Stecher,” Stone said. “He threw it to the net. If you go to the net, good things happen.”
The Czechs then had the only two power plays of the period, but Canada’s team defence was sensational, and the odd time the Czechs got a clean shot, Murray was perfect in the blue ice.
“It’s special,” Stecher said of Canada’s gold-medal opportunity. “It’s obviously why you come here. It’s to try to win. So we have a chance to do that. We like where our game’s at. We gave up a lot of shots against tonight, so that’s obviously going to be a focus heading into the final.”
Many fans weren’t back in their seats to start the second when Darnell Nurse made it 2-0. He left the puck for Sean Couturier and headed to the goal, and although Bartosak stopped the initial shot, Nurse got the rebound and swept around the back side and wrapped the puck in after just 10 seconds of play.
Five minutes later it was 3-0 on a sensational, three way passing play. Pierre-Luc Dubois got the puck to Stone behind the Czech goal. Stone eluded his man and made a pass to the other side to Jonathan Marchessault, and in one motion he put the puck through the crease back to Dubois, who stuffed it in for the beauty.
Czech coach Milos Riha had had enough and pulled Bartosak in favour of Pavel Francouz, and although Canada didn’t score again in the period it had plenty of chances.
The Czechs had two great chances to get on the board. On the first, midway through the period, Ondrej Palat cut in on goal but lost the puck before he could get a decent shot off. Then, in the final minute, the Czechs buzzed around Canada’s goal but Murray stood his ground in denying a close-in shot from Tomas Zohorna.
Kyle Turris scored another beauty at 6:26 of the third. Anthony Mantha got a step on the defenceman and drove wide, dishing off to Turris in the slot at the perfect moment. The captain wired a shot over the glove of the left-handed Francouz to more or less put the game out of reach.
Thomas Chabot made it 5-0 at 13:00 when he got the puck inside the Czech blue line, cut to the middle, and wristed the puck over that Francouz glove again.
Just 59 seconds later, the Czechs finally beat Murray. Chabot bobbled a stretch pass at his blue line, and Zohorna went in alone and beat Murray with a high shot.
“We were able to capitalize early on a few of our good scoring opportunities and when we had some breakdowns, whether it was shorthanded or five-on-five, our goaltender was the difference maker tonight. [Matt Murray] made some big saves at key times, and we were able to get a lead and maintain that lead.”
– Head coach Alain Vigneault (Quebec City, Que./Philadelphia, NHL) discusses the play of Matt Murray and getting out to an early lead
“I think when we got up 3-0 we had a little bit of a lapse. In the last five minutes of the second period, Matt [Murray] made about three or four big saves for us and kind of calmed the bench down. I can’t say enough about him and his ability to come up big for us and settle everyone down. Having that wall back there is big for us.”
– Stone on the play of Matt Murray
“I didn’t really have any expectations coming in to the tournament, because you never really know what is going to happen. I just try to go out there and play and do what I can to help the team. Obviously we’re excited and thrilled, and just thankful for the opportunity to play for a gold medal.
“We just need to focus on doing what we need to do, and doing the things that make us a good team. [Finland] is going to be a good test for us again, I was very impressed the last time we played against them. We know they’re a good team, so it’s going to be a good game.”
– Murray looks ahead to the gold medal game and a rematch with Finland.