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(Petr David Josek)
(Petr David Josek)

Canada, Russia and elimination on the line Add to ...

The world championship is unfortunately the tournament that everyone usually forgets.

This time around, it's been almost totally lost in a terrific NHL playoffs, despite the fact Canada sent one of its better teams to Slovakia and has been winning its way through the event.

The Canadians have beaten Belarus, France, Switzerland, the U.S., Norway and Sweden, a 6-0 record that set up what could be a tough quarter-final date with a struggling Russian team.

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Not much of a reward for going undefeated.

The game goes tomorrow in Bratislava around 2 p.m. EDT, with the winner moving onto face the winner of Finland-Norway in the semi-final on Friday afternoon. (Two teams will play for gold on Sunday.)

Here's a breakdown of the teams that will meet tomorrow:

Canada

Goal: Kings netminder Jonathan Bernier has taken over as the starting goaltender from Leafs rookie James Reimer, and he'll get the start in the elimination game against Russia. Both goaltenders have played well, but Reimer's few minor mistakes led to the shift to Bernier.

Defence: Canada's top four defence has been made up of Dion Phaneuf, Brent Burns, Alex Pietrangelo and Marc Methot, with Luke Schenn filling the fifth defenceman role and No. 6 going to a host of bodies. Pietrangelo, who really should have been in the running for the NHL's rookie of the year award if not for some archaic games played criteria, leads the tournament with a plus-8.

Forwards: John Tavares leads Canada and the tournament with nine points, which includes five goals in six games, and is followed by Jeff Skinner and Jason Spezza in scoring. Coach Ken Hitchcock's top minute getters up front have been Rick Nash, Spezza, James Neal, Andrew Ladd, Matt Duchene and Chris Stewart, which highlights just how much depth there is on this team.

Russia

Goal: Evgeni Nabokov was the projected starter, but an injury has meant Blues draft pick Konstantin Barulin taking over and he's been solid with a .923 save percentage. His numbers in the KHL have been terrific the past two years, but he's won only once so far in the tournament.

Defence: The Russians always like their KHL players internationally and this year's no exception. Their top four has consisted of Vitali Atyushov, Ilya Nikulin, Fedor Tyutin and Dmitri Kalinin, with Tyutin the only NHLer. That group could have a tough time handling Canada's forwards.

Forwards: Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk are the stars here, but neither has scored a goal to this point. Other forwards to keep an eye on are Alex Radulov, Denis Zaripov, Sergei Zinoviev (the team's leading scorer with four goals), Maxim Afinogenov and Alexei Morozov.

On the line

Canada's loaded up front and solid enough on the back end that they should be able to win, but you never do know when it comes down to a one-game elimination like this. But if they get the win here, there should be a relativey clear path to the finals, where Canada would likely face either Sweden or the defending champion Czechs for gold.

Canada has won the worlds only once in the past six years (2007) and finished a disappointing seventh with Mark Messier as GM last year in Germany. They've made a concerted effort to send a better team this time around, and it's paying off.

A win tomorrow should mean Canada passes Russia in the 2011 world rankings, too.

 

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