The Russia-Canada rivalry will look a little different this time to Rick Nash.
With the teams set to meet in the quarter-finals at the IIHF World Hockey Championship on Thursday (TSN, 2:15 p.m. ET), the talented winger is facing his first do-or-die game as national team captain.
Nash's leadership will be extremely important for a young Canadian team that won all six of its round robin games and still drew Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Co. to open the medal round. A similar scenario played out at the Olympics in Vancouver, where Nash scored during a lights-out first period that helped propel Canada to a memorable 7-3 victory over its fierce rival.
The main motivation behind that performance?
"I think the biggest thing was remembering the disappointment of Torino (2006 Olympics) and just not wanting to have that feeling again," Nash said after Tuesday night's practice at Orange Arena.
The Canadian team made the trip from Kosice to Bratislava earlier in the day. Before getting on the plane, Nash was informed the IIHF had chosen not to hand out further discipline for his huge hit on Mikael Backlund during a 3-2 win over Sweden on Monday night.
"You know the only reason I would have been worried was because of the media asking me about it," said Nash. "I didn't think it was that bad at all."
It was an important decision for Canada because Nash appears to be getting closer to finding his top gear and he has a tremendous amount of international experience. He's the only player here who was part of the 2010 Olympic victory while the Russians have 12 returnees from that tournament.
As a result, they're a pretty familiar opponent for head coach Ken Hitchcock, who was an associate on Mike Babcock's staff in Vancouver.
"They know how to play," said Hitchcock. "What we've got to do is rely on our energy and our good play so far in the tournament. Hopefully, it carries over."
Four of Canada's six wins in the tournament have been by one goal so the team is accustomed to playing in tight games. Hitchcock didn't announce whether he would start goaltender Jonathan Bernier for a third straight game or go back to James Reimer, who won the first four games.
Following the win over Sweden, the coach heaped a lot of praise on Bernier.
"I'm ready to roll if I get the call," said Bernier. "It was good to get two games. No matter what happens after, if Reimer or (No. 3 goalie Devan Dubnyk) is going to play, it's OK. We're all part of the team."
The Russians have struggled to find their best team game early in this championship, setting the stage for the early matchup with Canada. Ovechkin failed to register a point in losses to the Czech Republic and Finland while Kovalchuk is still without a goal in the tournament.
Hitchcock doesn't put much stock in the statistics.
"Now it starts," he said. "They're playing at half speed. They'll play at full speed on Thursday, don't worry about that. They'll be fine."
Canada is employing the exact same attacking system it turned to gold in Vancouver - albeit with some adjustments because of the larger ice service used here. They certainly don't plan to start trading chances with the Russians.
"I think the key is to not give them the easy (scoring) opportunities they're capable of getting," said Hitchcock. "Because if they have an odd-man rush it's pretty much in your net. You've got to try to avoid that."
Russia eliminated Canada from this event in the quarter-finals with a 5-2 victory a year ago. Six Canadians are back from that team, including leading scorer John Tavares, and they're eager to make amends.
"I think they'll be pretty close to the same as they were last year," said Tavares.
One element Nash brings to the dressing room is the confidence that comes with experience. He's seen the good and bad of playing against Russia - eliminating them from the Vancouver Games, losing the 2008 world championship in overtime on home ice in Quebec City - and hopes the next chapter is a good one.
"It's a new tournament every single time," said Nash. "It's a new kind of storybook. I'm sure more times in my career I'll have big games against Russia still. Every game's huge no matter what is at stake."
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