TORONTO (AP) — Sidney Crosby was at his best on one of hockey’s biggest stages.
Crosby scored once and assisted on both of Brad Marchand’s goals, including the winner early the third period, to help Canada beat Russia 5-3 on Saturday night in the World Cup of Hockey semifinals.
“He always comes up big in the big games,” Marchand said.
The Canadians will face the winner of Sunday’s Sweden -Team Europe game in the best-of-three finals that will start Tuesday night.
“We’re going to be measured on what happens next,” said coach Mike Babcock, who has helped Canada win gold at the last two Winter Olympics.
Crosby opened the scoring at 7:40 into the game on a spectacular sequence, showing he has plenty of energy despite having a brief summer between winning the Stanley Cup and competing in the World Cup.
“It was short, but exciting, knowing we were coming here,” he said.
Crosby skated hard into a corner, forcing Alexey Marchenko to give up the puck earlier than he wanted. Dmitry Kulikov ended up with the puck in the left circle, but didn’t have it long because Crosby snatched it away.
Crosby made the puck dance on both sides of his stick as he skated across the front of the crease and as soon as Sergei Bobrovsky went down on his left hip, he backhanded the puck into the net without a Russian player near him.
“I had a little bit more time than you typically get,” Crosby said.
Bobrovsky made 16 of his 42 saves in the first period, keeping the Russians in it.
“That’s why he’s one of the best goalies in the world,” teammate Alex Ovechkin said. “He played unbelievable. When they score, it’s not his mistake. He gave us a chance.”
Nikita Kucherov made it 1-all midway through the first and Evgeny Kuznetsov put Russia ahead 2-1 with 3:36 left in the second.
Crosby, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time Stanley Cup champion, made a cross-crease pass to set up Marchand for his tying goal just 1:12 after Russia went ahead.
In the dressing room after two periods, Babcock delivered a brief message.
“There’s no chance they can keep up if we keep doing what we’re doing,” Babcock recalled telling his team.
The Russians, and perhaps any other team, may not have much of an opportunity to win against a Crosby-led team with some of the game’s biggest stars.
With a chance to take a pivotal lead in the third, Crosby chose to give up the puck, not shoot it. He deftly dropped a pass to Marchand atop the left circle to assist on the game-winning goal 1:16 into the third.
Corey Perry gave Canada a two-goal cushion at 5:48 of the third and John Tavares made it 4-2 midway through the period.
Carey Price made 31 saves for the Canadians. He made some momentum-stunting saves early in the first, but backchecking forwards and poke-checking defensemen made his job relatively easy for much of the night.
Russia was not in a position to come back in a game in which it gave up more than twice as many shots as it put on the Price-protected net until pulling their goalie late to add an extra skater in a nothing-to-lose attempt to get back in the game. Artemi Panarin scored with 9 seconds left, making the score look slightly more respectable.
The Russians were without one of their top players, Pavel Datsyuk , because of a lower-body injury.
As usual in a matchup of NHL superstars, Crosby came out on top against Ovechkin.
It looked as if it might end up that way even before the puck dropped.
Both captains were called the center ice for a goodwill gesture, pairing them up with young boys on skates holding flags that represented each country.
While Crosby put his arm around the youngster next to him, a stone-faced Ovechkin stood with his gloves at his side.
Crosby helped the host Canadians crush the Ovechkin-led Russians 7-3 in the quarterfinals of the 2010 Vancouver Games. Four years later, with a chance at redemption at the Winter Olympics in Russia, Ovechkin couldn’t do enough to help his team get past the quarterfinals while Crosby and the Canadians earned gold again. Ovechkin is also left waiting and wondering if he’ll ever hoist the Stanley Cup.
Given a chance to help his team and country get a desperately wanted win, Ovechkin didn’t have a shot through two periods and finished with just two shots.
“Maybe he doesn’t have enough of luck,” Russian coach Oleg Znarok said through an interpreter.
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