Published May 11, 2011
For the top NHL players whose teams aren't still competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there's no bigger thrill at this time of year than battling for their countries in an attempt to win gold at the IIHF World Championship.
The tension and excitement continues with Thursday's quarterfinal games to be played in the Slovakian capital city of Bratislava.
Here's a capsule look at both games on the slate:
Canada vs. Russia, 2:15 p.m. ET
One of hockey's best rivalries writes another chapter. That the two superpowers are meeting this early in the tournament is a bit of a surprise – as it was at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Canada won the event in 2007 before Russia defeated the Canadians in 2008 and 2009 in the gold medal game.
Canada finished first in Group B of the preliminary round despite needing overtime to defeat Switzerland in its final contest. The Canadians also finished atop Group E in the qualifying round, defeating Sweden 3-2 in the final game to earn the top spot and a date with the Russians.
Russia finished second in Group A of the preliminary round because of a 2-0 defeat by Germany. The Russians also lost twice in the qualifying round, 3-2 to the Czech Republic and Finland to drop to fourth in Group E. Alex Ovechkin played in the two most recent games after the Capitals were eliminated from the playoffs, and was held scoreless.
John Tavares leads Canada with 5 goals and 9 points, while Jeff Skinner and Jason Spezza have 3 goals and 6 points each. James Reimer has started four of the six games, while Jonathan Bernier has been in the net for the other two. The two goalies have almost identical numbers, but Bernier started against Sweden and was sharp. Coach Ken Hitchcock said Tuesday he hasn't decided on a starter for the quarterfinal.
Sergei Zinoviev leads Russia with 4 goals, while Danis Zaripov has a team-leading 6 points. Ilya Kovalchuk has no goals but 5 assists. Evgeni Nabokov began the tournament as Russia's No. 1 goaltender, but Konstantin Barulin has replaced him because of injury. The Russian team also features NHL players Dmitry Kulikov and Fedor Tyutin and several ex-NHLers including Alexander Radulov, Maxim Afinogenov, Dmitri Kalinin and Alexei Morozov.
Finland vs. Norway, 10:15 a.m. ET
Looking to medal for the first time since taking home bronze in 2008, the Finnish team has been led offensively by the heroics of Jarkko Immonen, who played 20 games over parts of two seasons for the Rangers, and Hurricanes veteran Tuomo Ruutu. Each has scored 5 goals for the tournament, while Immonen has added a pair of assists and also scored the decisive shootout goal in a 3-2 win over Russia to close the qualifying round. Wild captain Mikko Koivu complements the Finland attack with 2 goals and 5 points. In goal, a platoon of Petri Vehanen and Teemu Lassila has gotten the job done so far, though a true No. 1 has yet to emerge. Vehanen was pulled after giving up a pair of early goals to Russia, and Lassila was brilliant in his relief effort.
Proficient goal-scoring hasn't always been a hallmark for Norwegian hockey, but it's been a banner tournament as they've qualified for the quarterfinals for just the second time since the current playoff format was adopted in 1992 -- it first happened three years ago. Norway has 22 goals to this point, its highest total at the Worlds in more than two decades, and Marius Holtet, a former second-round pick by Dallas, has been the focal point of the Norwegians’ efforts. Holtet erupted for four goals in a 5-2 win over France to complete the qualifying round and now has a tournament-leading 6 goals. Up front, Mathis Olimb has 1 goal and 9 points to lead the team in scoring, while Per-Age Skroder and Anders Bastiansen each have 3 goals and 7 points. Jonas Holos from the Colorado Avalanche has 2 goals and 5 points on the blue line. Goalie Lars Haugen has a 2.48 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.