By Steve Keating
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada punched their ticket to the semi-finals of the Olympic men's ice hockey tournament by rolling over Russia with a 7-3 win on Wednesday, delivering a jolt of excitement felt right across the country.
Now safely through to the last four, Canada's goal has come into sharper focus with only the winner of the Sweden-Slovakia game standing in the way of playing for the gold that means more to the ice-hockey mad nation than any other on February 28.
As Canada celebrated, their stunned rivals, tipped by many to return home with Russia's first gold medal since the breakup of the Soviet Union, were left to wonder how it all went wrong.
While the contest might not be remembered as one of the great classics in a rich rivalry that stretches back decades, it is one Canadians are not likely to soon forget.
The atmosphere inside a seething Canada Hockey Place could not have been more electric but apprehension also hung heavy in the air as the world's two top ranked teams and gold medal favorites prepared to take to the ice.
Plugging into the energy of a frenetic crowd, Canada set the tone for the rout with a furious first period that left the Russians feeling as if they had run into a buzz saw.
Ryan Getzlaf ignited the crowd when he opened the scoring just over two minutes into the first period after he slammed home a puck into a gapping Russian net.
Dan Boyle and Rick Nash then scored 46 seconds apart to shift the party atmosphere in the arena into high gear.
Dmitri Kalinin slowed the mauling when he counted Russia's first but Brenden Morrow answered to send the hosts into the first intermission with a 4-1 lead.
Perry would add another while Maxim Afinogenov and Sergei Gonchar scored to cut into the Canadian advantage but there would be no way back for the Russians, who will now hope National Hockey League will still be part of the Olympics when the 2014 Winter Games go to Sochi.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)