BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA—Canada’s latest win at the world hockey championship left Mark Stone with a renewed sense of confidence heading into the gold-medal game.
Stone scored his tournament-leading eighth goal and Matt Murray made 39 saves as Canada downed the Czech Republic 5-1 in semifinal play on Saturday, setting up a gold-medal finale against Finland for Sunday.
The Finns are the only team to have beaten Canada at the tournament — a 3-1 victory in the opener on May 10.
“I think we can beat anybody in this tournament,” Stone said after Saturday’s win. “It’s just a matter of whether we play well or not. We’re going to have to bring our best game to beat (Finland), but I’m comfortable with the team that we have.”
Darnell Nurse, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Kyle Turris and Thomas Chabot also scored for Canada in the second semifinal of the day. Finland edged Russia 1-0 in the earlier game.
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“The score was 5-1 but it felt closer than that,” said Dubois. “The Czechs played a really good game. They did a lot of good things.
“I thought we defended well as a unit of five. We didn’t give them a lot. Murray was really good when we made mistakes and that’s what made the difference.”
Tomas Zohorna scored the lone Czech goal, with 6:01 left to play in the third period.
The gold medal game will serve as a rematch of the 2016 final in Moscow, which Canada won 2-1.
Canada has won eight straight games at this year’s tournament after dropping the opener.
“It feels great,” Murray said. “I think as a team we’re just thankful for the opportunity. One, to be here and play for our country and now to get this opportunity to play for gold. It’s very exciting and that’s what we’re here for.”
Canada opened the scoring in Saturday’s game at the 5:18 mark of the first period when Stone streaked to the net to tip a centring pass from Troy Stecher below the glove of Czech netminder Patrik Bartosak.
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Nurse doubled the lead just 10 seconds into the middle frame when he picked up the puck behind the net and deposited it behind an unsuspecting Bartosak on a wraparound play.
Bartosak’s day came to an end at the 5:06 mark of the second, when Dubois converted a cross-ice feed from Marchessault for Canada’s third goal of the game. Bartosak was replaced by Pavel Francouz, who gave up third-period goals to Turris and Chabot.
Canada’s coach, Alain Vigneault, was happy to see balanced scoring from his squad.
“We needed that tonight,” he said. “We had a very tough opponent that has really been on top of their game.
“We had talked prior to the game about the types of looks that we were looking for, to have success against such a good opponent. We were able to get those looks and we were able to get different guys to put the puck in the net for us. That’s given us a chance to play tomorrow for gold and we’re going to need a full team effort on both parts, offensively and defensively.”
The Czechs outshot Canada 12-11 in each of the first two periods, and 41-30 in the game.
Canada’s penalty killing played a crucial early role in the win. Ranked 11th out of 16 teams going into the semifinal, the Canadians successfully killed off first-period penalties to Marchessault and Turris and a third-period infraction by Chabot to keep the Czechs’ 10th-ranked power play off the board.
Canada was the top team in the tournament with the man advantage heading into the game but did not get many chances Saturday. The disciplined Czechs did not give up their first power play until the late stages of the third period.
Canadian forward Anthony Mantha returned to the lineup on Saturday after serving a one-game suspension. Mantha came into the game tied with Stone for the team lead in scoring with 12 points and picked up his sixth assist of the tournament with his feed on Turris’ goal.
Saturday marked the Czechs’ first time in the world championship semifinal since a 2-0 loss to Canada on home soil in Prague in 2015. Canada went 10-0 in that tournament and took home the first of two back-to-back gold medals. The Czechs’ last medals were back-to-back bronze in 2011 and 2012.