Saturday, September 24, 2016

World Cup of Hockey: Red-hot Bobrovsky stands in Canada's way

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TORONTO - Best quote of the game Sergei Bobrovsky the World Cup of Hockey came from a colleague Nikita Zaitsev, who said that the Russian goalie is "the most important part of our team."

Worst quote could have come from the head coach is Bobrovsk√Ĺ. Following Thursday's 21-save shutout against Finland, a win which qualified to the semifinals Russia, Oleg Znarok said, "It's a hockey game and he did block. All goalkeepers that - block shots."

Maybe something was lost in translation. Or maybe Znarok was so spoiled by watching the play Bobrovsky, have forgotten that most of the other goalkeepers do not usually spend the whole game standing on their heads to make the highlight reel saves.

Blocking shots? Technically, that's what 28-year-old Bobrovsky was doing. But you'd have to be blind not to realize the Columbus Blue Jackets are also doing much more for Russia.

Bobrovsky is why Russia, a team that is ahead, who do not like backcheck and defenders whose names you've probably never heard of, won the final four date with Canada.

It was Bobrovsky who robbed Connor McDavid in a breakaway in the 4-3 victory over North America on Monday. And it was Bobrovsky, who stopped every shot he faced in a 3-0 win against Finland on Thursday. And if Russia hopes to knock the host country on Saturday night, Bobrovsky must keep it up.



"If your keeper makes a key save, it is always important to help his teammates in terms of the feeling of confidence," said the Russian defender Andrei Markov. "It's huge for us. He does a good job and hopefully it will do the same to the end, you know."

Emphasis Saturday will undoubtedly focus on Sidney Crosby against Alex Ovechkin matchup. That's a given. There's too much history between the two superstars, who are the faces of their countries to ignore. But the real battle will happen in the network.

The biggest obstacle standing in the way of the way of Canada in the World Cup final is Bobrovsky, who captured the Vezina Trophy form of 2013 and it was probably the best goalkeeper of the tournament so far.

Canada's Carey Price, who allowed two goals in two games and rocking .968 save percentage, may have a better overall numbers. Yet in some respects, Bobrovsky was a better goalkeeper because of the increased workload and because it is operating without a safety net.

"I feel very well," said Bobrovsky, who struggled with a groin injury for most of last season. "Yeah, I had some hard times, of course, but I feel great right now and I feel ready mentally and physically. It helps you because you believe in your body. You know you can rely on your body and everything works properly.

"It's all about the process. You move on every day."

The last time the teams played an exhibition in the tournament, Bobrovsky was pelted with 48 shots in 3-2 overtime loss to Canada. At the other end of the ice, the price of the workload is so light in that game that he could go out for coffee between shots.

Canada, which has so many offensive and defensive depth, can still win if the price allows a soft goal Saturday is just average. Bobrovsky, who turned aside 91 of 96 shots in the tournament - in Europe alone Jaroslav Halak recorded more rubber - must not only stop the pucks that his coach expects him to stop, but also to the stores that nobody thinks possible.

Yet he did it. Bobrovsky has a 1.68 goals against average and .948 save percentage in three games. Now comes his biggest challenge: facing one of the most complete Canadian teams in recent memory.

"Obviously, it's a good result, which we went around the four teams, but our biggest problem is before us, we look forward to it," said Bobrovsky. "That's all that matters.

"It's huge, obviously. There is nothing to add really. It's a great battle."

In fact, Canadians are clear favorites.

They have scored a tournament-leading 14 goals and have allowed only three. They Jonathan Toews, Matt Duchene and Sidney Crosby, top shooters remaining (4 points each). The team is so deep that Joe Thornton, top-five goalscorer last season NHL and future Hall of Famer, playing on the fourth line.

Russia, which boasts Ovechkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Artemi Panarin and Evgeni Malkin, may be the only country that can match Canada offensive firepower.

Success will likely depend on defensive play, though. More specifically, Bobrovsky will have to do what the coach expects - ". Block shots"

Russia supported a loud and PROUD

When there was still a chance Canada could face Team North America in the semifinals on Saturday night, some wondered who would get the biggest cheers.

Canada was apparently the host country. But North America was not only Canadian-born players like Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon also Auston Matthews and Johnny Gaudreau, who play for the Canadian-based teams.

Since the World Cup of Hockey went on the 23-and-under team was gaining increasing popularity to the point where it could be difficult to tell who had the home-ice advantage.

That's not the question. Or is it?

"It will be great and very emotional," said the Russian defender Andrei Markov Saturday's match. "The crowd will be on our side, probably."

Excuse me? He said only say that Russia might have more supporters than Canada? Would you kidding? Well, not quite.

Markov might be right that fans from Russia and all over Europe come out in droves to support their team at the World Cup.

During Thursday's match between Russia and Finland, chanting "Russ-Yee-hah!" Echoed throughout the Air Canada Centre. This may not drown Canadians in the crowd, but it should add to the atmosphere for the game.

"The Russian population here, especially in Toronto is huge," said Markov. "Moreover, in our country, all will support us."

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