At several points in yesterday's game against Slovakia, the Toronto crowd chanted the words "We want Russia," and they did not have to wait long to get their wish. The two teams squared off in probably the craziest game of this year's tournament.
Anthony Duclair had been very dangerous in the last couple of games coming in to this one, but seemed to struggle finishing his scoring chances. It took him less than 30 seconds to find the back of the net in the gold medal game, taking a pass from Max Domi and unleashing a quick snap shot past Igor Shestyorkin.
Canada did not take their foot off the gas pedal, as they continued to pressure the Russians, looking to extend their lead. Some great transitional play eventually led to Nick Paul redirecting a Brayden Point pass home to go up by two less than midway through the first. This spelled the end of the night for Shestyorkin, who was replaced by Ilya Sorokin after allowing two goals on only two shots.
It was a near constant Canadian onslaught for the first six minutes or so of the first period, but they did begin to let up a bit following the second goal. The Russians began to take advantage and get some chances of their own as the period went on.
Russia would pull within one halfway through the first, with Dmitry Yudin firing a loose puck through a crowd. Alexander Sharov got a little carried away celebrating the goal, and took a roughing penalty, but the Russians were able to kill it without allowing much from the Canadian special teams.
What initially looked like it could be one of those dominant Canadian victories, quickly proved to be a more even match. The teams traded a number of decent chances after the Russian goal, but it remained a one goal Canadian lead after one. Also leading 15-9 in shots, the Canadians needed to execute two more periods like the first to get their gold medals.
The second period would begin a lot like the first for the Canadian side. They managed to generate some good pressure, and keep the Russians in their defensive zone. Following an icing call, a tired Russian group was trying to execute a line change, and Josh Morrissey found Connor McDavid, sending him in alone to make the score 3-1 for Canada.
Canada kept up following the goal and pressed to extend the lead again. Max Domi would walk into the high slot and fire a laser beam past Ilya Sorokin to make the score 4-1 Canada. Having already completed a goalie swap, the Russian coach elected to call a timeout to try and rally his team. It would take some time for that to work though...
Not long after extending the Canadian lead, Max Domi would be sent to the penalty box to serve two for charging. But, not long after serving that penalty, he would send a shot on goal, redirected by Sam Reinhart to make the score 5-1 Canada.
But Russia would get another powerplay opportunity, and with Jake Virtanen in the box, Russia was able to cut into the lead with Ivan Barbashyov banging home a loose puck in a scrum in the crease of Zachary Fucale. With this, Russia got the spark that they were looking for to start a comeback.
Russia would cut the lead again, bringing themselves within two a short 31 seconds after that. Madison Bowey turned the puck over, leading to a two-on-one finished off by Sergei Tolchinski. Then Russia got yet another powerplay, and this time it was Nikolai Goldobin credited for banging home a loose puck in tight, cutting a once-comfortable four goal lead down to one over a very short period of game time. In the gif below, you can see that the shot actually appears to go in off Frederik Gauthier's leg for an own goal.
An all-offense second period saw the Russians give up three goals, then fight tooth and nail to escape the frame at the same deficit with which they began it. To make matters worse for Canada, in addition to the Russians erasing most of a four goal deficit, they had taken the lead in shots on goal, and would start the period with Sam Reinhart in the penalty box for a hooking call made at the end of the second.
While Russia would fail to score on the powerplay, they did jump out to a 5-0 lead in third period shots by the five minute mark of the period. Eventually, Canada started taking the puck up ice a little more themselves, generating some decent scoring chances. They were definitely looking to avoid over-committing on the forecheck, but not totally sitting on that one-goal cushion.
As time ticked away and Canadians everywhere checked the clock feverishly, Canada did an excellent job mitigating the Russian offensive attack, limiting them to short offensive zone possessions and clearing the zone with relative ease.
Russia would eventually get their goaltender out and give a final push to try and even the score, but Canada stood tall, and didn't allow much against Zachary Fucale in the dying minutes. Canada held on, taking gold at the World Juniors for the first time since 2009. It wasn't easy, and they nearly blew a four goal lead in the process, but Canada is once again on top of the hockey world.