Kissing his mini-slump goodbye, Dany Heatley scored three goals, two on beautiful passes from Daniel Briere, to help defeat the Czech Republic 8-4 and advance to the gold-medal game for the first time since 1997 when the team was victorious. Briere had three assists on the afternoon, and a total of six Canadians contributed goals.
Introduced in their imposing red sweaters, Canada started with Sean Burke in goal while the Czechs went with Tomas Vokoun. But by the midway point of the game both goalies were out and the backups were asked to carry the load for the rest of the game.
Slava Leder, the Czech coach, pulled Vokoun to wake up his listless Czech team after falling behind 3-0. In Canada's case, Burke suffered a lower-body injury and could not continue.
Skating with confidence, the Czechs had a number of excellent chances after the opening faceoff, but Burke made some fine stops to keep the puck out of the net while his skaters calmed down and found their legs. Robert Reichel had a great chance from ten feet out in the first minute that Burke blocked, and then Martin Straka and Jan Hlavac both had great opportunities that Burke refused to let by. Steve Staios helped wake up the Canadian bench with two great bodychecks, and Canada got on the board first on a power play.
Eric Brewer drifted a quick shot on net. It fell at Vokoun's feet, but before he could trap it, Shane Doan banged in the loose puck. Jaroslv Modry was in the box at the time. For the rest of the period, Canada had the better of the play and the Czechs looked disinterested in playing a skating or hitting game.
Similarly, it was all Canada again in the second period. A Briere to Heatley pass resulted in a great scoring chance early on, and at 3:57 a perfect drop pass by the former allowed Heatley to tee the puck up and drill a hard slapshot between Vokoun's legs.
Andy Murray didn't worry too much about matching Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby—his checking specialists—against Milan Hejduk, Straka, and Hlavac. Instead, the whol team played superbly inside their own blueline. Soon after the Heatley goal, though, Burke skated quickly to the Canadian bench and headed straight for the dressing room while Robereto Luongo hurriedly put on his mask and made his way to the ice.
Noted Shane Doan, a Phoenix teammate of Burke's, "Burkie's been so important to us and right now I think he's the best goalie in the world. But when you have Luongo coming in, it feels pretty good. He's probably the premier up-and-coming goalie in the NHL, and he's established himself as a number-one guy in the league."
Doan's words were accurate. Luongo came in and played steadily, giving the team that needed confidence to keep playing the same game. Jay Bouwmeester opened a huge 3-0 lead for the Canadians when he took a perfect pass from Shawn Horcoff, walked in alone on goal from the point, and hit the far side with a perfect shot. It was then that Leder took Vokoun out and inserted Roman Malek, but while the move worked in the second period, it backfired in the third as Malek struggled to stop any but the most routine of shots.
Hugely important to the game was Czech captain Robert Reichel who got the Czechs back in the game with a 4-on-3 power-play goal at 14:30. He ripped a quick wrist shot to the short side over Luongo's left shoulder. The Czechs came to life and pressed the rest of the period, and they were rewarded in the last minute. A simple point shot from Petr Kadlec was redirected in front by Reichel, and all of a sudden that 3-0 lead was 3-2 after two periods.
Under threat of losing another lead as they did to Germany wto nights ago, the Canadians headed to the dressing room to regroup. The promise of an interesting third period came to fruition early. Jiri Hudler made a lovely pass to the back door side of Luongo to Hejduk, and he calmly walked out in front and buried a shot to the far side to tie the game at 2:04.
Game tied and lead gone, Andy Murray wisely called a timeout at that point, and he managed to refocus his team. "We knew at that point that the next goal was probably going to win the game," he said afterward.
Sure enough, the message hit home with the players. Two shifts later, Horcoff sent a pass to Kyle Calder on a similar play as Hudler to Hejduk, but Calder waited for Malek to go down and then shifted the other way to put the puck in the open side of the net. Canada had restored its lead, and the Czechs were noticeably deflated to see their fine comeback go by the wayside so quickly.
Of the backbreaking goal, Lener was philosophical: "We did well to come back, but we played a lot of minutes on emotion. After that fourth goal, we couldn't handle the Canadians. It's very hard to find a weakness in their team."
"Naturally, we were nervous when they tied the game, but we know they can score," Kyle Calder added. "We were nervous the rest of the game but we got a couple of big goals and were able to turn the game around."
Most of the rest of the period was dominated by Canada, though the team was helped by Malek's weak play. Krys Kolanos made a beautiful fake of the defenceman on a 2-on-1 before throwing the puck across to Heatley who slammed home the pass at 8:41 to make it 5-3.
Only four minutes later, Horcoff got a goal of his own on another lovely pass, this from Patrick Marleau, and although Radek Duda scored on a slapshot at 17:08, the Canadians weren't done yet. Mathieu Dandeneault scored five-hole and then Heatley closed out the scoring on the best pass of the night, from Briere, before finishing with the prettiest goal of the night, a backhand under the crossbar on the short side.
"Nothing suggested that that could happen. It's not your typical game against the Czechs where there are 12 goals. It was a lot of fun and a great win for us. They've mastered playing well on defence on the big ice, so no one expected all these goals today," Doan said.
Daniel Briere ended the game with three assists, and Marleau and Horcoff had two each. Shots were 31-29 in favour of Canada, and referee Thomas Andersson did a good job of letting the players decide the game. Canada now will play the winner of tonight's Sweden-Slovakia game on Sunday for the gold medal.
As a result, Canada, guaranteed a silver medal, would not be so easily satisfied. "We hope to turn silver into gold on Sunday," Murray ended, smiling.
Yet if Sweden wins, fans will finally have the matchup they were expecting at Salt Lake City at the 2002 Olympics. If it's Slovakia, Canada will try to avenge a quarter-finals loss from a year ago, 3-2, when the team allowed a goal at 19:59 of the second period to get the Slovaks in the game. "If we play our game, I think we can beat either one of them," Heatley enthused after. Either way, it will be a truly international finals.