The quarter-final of the IIHF World Championship has become a hurdle Canada just can’t get over.
Canada was eliminated from medal contention in the round of eight for a fourth straight year. It was a 3-2 shootout quarter-final loss to host Sweden that knocked Canada out this time.
Canada last advanced to the semifinals in 2009 en route to a silver medal. Current head coach Lindy Ruff was behind Canada’s bench that year too. Canada last won a world title in 2007.
For all the skill, experience and firepower this Canadian team had at forward, shootouts were not its forte in Stockholm.
Thursday’s loss in extra shots was Canada’s second of the tournament following a 3-2 shootout loss to Switzerland in the preliminary round.
Fredrik Pettersson scored the winner in the fourth round and Canada’s Jordan Eberle was stopped by Jhonas Enroth as the Swedes moved onto a semifinal meeting Saturday with archrival Finland. The United States and Switzerland meet in the other semifinal.
In the two shootouts combined, Canada scored twice on 12 chances. Eberle and Matt Duchene were both 1-for-4. Claude Giroux was a combined 0-for-2. Steve Stamkos and Matt Read were also stopped on their single attempts.
“When you look at the numbers of some of our shooters, how good the numbers are, that’s the one thing we let slip away,” Ruff said.
“Shootouts are strange. You want curse at shootouts sometimes and then you want to second-guess the personnel you use when you don’t score and you’re happy when you do score.
“You would think you’d be able to put it away, but it’s a split second. You’ve got a chance to be a hero or you end up being a bum.”
Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes suffered both shootout losses in addition to earning wins of 3-0 and 2-1 over Sweden and the Czech Republic respectively in the round-robin.
“It’s the worst feeling obviously,” Smith said. “Every time we put the Canada sweater on you are expected to win. This is tough to take.”
Stamkos and Giroux scored for Canada on Thursday. Smith, who played in his first world championship for Canada, made 30 saves in regulation and overtime.
Enroth of the Buffalo Sabres stopped 39 before the shootout. Jacob Markstrom made a pair of saves when Enroth left the game briefly in overtime. Swedish coach Par Marts said it was because Enroth needed hydration.
Canada has three practices as a team before playing seven games in 10 days in the round robin. The NHL’s lockout-shortened season ended three weeks later than usual, so there was no time for a proper training camp or exhibition games.
Despite their lack of prep, the team won six games, lost two in a shootout and finished second in their pool to the Swiss. Eberle has now been on Canadian teams that have lost those four quarter-finals in a row and Duchene has experienced it three times.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” Duchene said. “Third time losing for me losing in this game and the fourth time for a couple of other guys. It hurts.
“I can’t believe we lost. I thought we had the team to do it this year. It just shows you one game, anyone can win. We don’t like that penalty shot rule, that’s for sure. It sucks we couldn’t keep playing overtime.”
Despite heaping the pressure on Canada for the quarter-final by declaring themselves the underdog, Sweden had its swagger by the end of the preliminary round because of the arrival of forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin and defenceman Alex Edler from the Vancouver Canucks.
Canada added defenceman P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens and Dan Hamhuis also from the Canucks after the tournament started.
Edler played less than a period Thursday. He was tossed after a knee-on-knee hit with Canada’s Eric Staal. The captain writhed on the ice in pain and did not return to the game.
Ruff didn’t have a post-game update on the Carolina Hurricanes captain, but Staal was on crutches and wearing a brace on his right knee following the loss.
Trailing 1-0 in the third, both Sedins assisted on a pair of power-play goals by Nicklas Danielsson, although Giroux pulled Canada even.
Canada’s penalty kill was the best in the tournament until Thursday, but Danielsson scored both of his through traffic.
Stamkos scored a power-play goal early in the second period, but was stopped on a breakaway by Enroth later in the period.
That, special teams and the loss of Staal, who was the only player on the roster from the 2010 Olympic team, hurt Canada’s chances of pulling out a win in regulation.
“It had some impact because there was a lot of shuffling going on,” Ruff said of Staal’s absence. “Still we had our opportunities. One of the turning points was we built a 1-0 lead and if Steve scores on the breakaway, it might have given us a little bit of cushion. We didn’t. We let them hang around.”
Canada appeared to go up 2-0 at the end of the second period on a last-second shot from Subban, but referees determined via video review that time expired before the puck crossed the goal-line.
“That’s why we have the instant replay. It wasn’t a goal obviously I guess,” Subban said. “I thought we did enough things to win this game today. I think what it comes down to is we had opportunities early in the game to put them away. We didn’t capitalize.”
Notes: Stamkos led Canada in scoring in this tournament with seven goals and five assists in 12 games . . . . Defenceman Luke Schenn was back in Canada’s lineup after serving his automatic one-game suspension for a match penalty in the round robin . . . Switzerland, coached by Sean Simpson of Brampton, Ont., will play in the semifinal for the first time since 1998 . . . St. Louis Blues rookie forward Jaden Schwartz joined the Canadian team Wednesday as insurance against injury up front.