BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Canada reached their fourth world championship final in the last five tournaments with a 5-1 rout of the Czech Republic and Finland joined them with a shock 1-0 win over favorites Russia on Saturday.
Sunday’s title showdown in the Ondrej Nepela Arena will be the second meeting between the two sides in the 16-nation event after Finland beat Canada 3-1 in their opening group-stage clash in Kosice.
Having squeezed through to the last four with a dramatic 3-2 quarter-final win over Switzerland, after forcing overtime with a goal 0.4 seconds before the end of regulation, the Canadians enjoyed plain sailing this time.
Mark Stone, who scored twice against the Swiss including a sudden-death overtime winner, fired Canada ahead in the first period when he steered in a Troy Stecher pass.
Darnell Nurse made it 2-0 15 seconds into the second period before Pierre-Luc Dubolis added the third goal, poking the puck in from Jonathan Marchessault’s assist.
Kyle Turris and a dazzling Thomas Chabot solo effort put the Canadians 5-0 ahead in the third period before Tomas Zohorna netted a late consolation goal for the Czechs.
The Canadians won back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016 but finished fourth last year and will be keen to take home a third gold medal in the last four years when they lock horns with the high-flying Finns.
Having knocked out holders and traditional rivals Sweden in the quarter-finals with a 5-4 overtime victory, Finland produced another upset after their captain Marko Anttila scored the winner against Russia midway through the third period.
The Russians had steamrolled into the last four with eight straight wins and scored 40 goals in the process, but an ironclad Finnish defence stifled them in a rugged contest.
Both goaltenders, Russia’s Andrei Vasilevski and Finn Kevin Lankinen, pulled off a string of superb saves before Anttila swept home a rebound after Vasilevski had parried Henri Jokiharju’s fierce slap-shot.
Although they were on the back foot for long spells against the fast-skating Russians, Finland always looked more likely to score from lightning breaks and nearly did so in the second period when Niko Ojamaki hit the post.
The Russians left an empty net in the last 90 seconds to deploy an extra forward but failed to pierce the Finnish armor as the outstanding Lankinen deflected everything the 2014 champions threw at him.
Anttila was confident Finland, who won their last world title at the same venue in 2011, would put the icing on the cake in the gold-medal match.
“We’ve believed in ourselves throughout the tournament,” he said.
“I don’t know if anybody else has but the way we’re playing, we can beat any team in this tournament. I like to think we’ve got one more win left in us.”
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Pritha Sarkar and Clare Fallon