Canada vs Russia rivalry never disappoints

Another nail biter was added to the list of classic historic showdowns between the land of poutine and the land ruled by Putin.

The gold medal duel won narrowly by Canada 5-4 over Russia on Monday had Air Canada Centre fans swaying between anxiety and jubilation, while armchair spectators in their living rooms were reaching for their defibrillators.

With the home team vaulting to a 5-1 second period lead, the road to end Canada’s five-year gold medal drought appeared comfortable.

But in a series of events reminiscent of the tournament played in Buffalo in 2011, the Russians – characteristically playing possum for the first half of the game – awoke from their hibernation, roaring back with three consecutive goals.

Leafs prospect Rinat Valiev was asked after the semi-finals whether coach Valeri Bragin motivated his team with video of the epic 2011 comeback in which Russia scored five straight times to yank away what looked like certain gold for Canada.

“We don’t need to see that, everyone knows what happened,” Valiev had said.

And it’s true, the Russians certainly needed no further inspiration or motivation. What they needed was an answer for defenceman Darnell Nurse. But none was forthcoming.

Nurse, of the Edmonton Oilers, took over the final twenty minutes of the game, using his lank frame to stifle the desperate Russian onslaught at every turn.

When the final buzzer sounded to the euphoric sea of red and white at ACC, Nurse was name the game’s most valuable player with Canada regaining junior supremacy for the first time since 2009.

The final tally was 5-4, but it looked like it could have wound up 6-5 at any time. The latter score has been the final result in four of the most classic games Canada has ever played against what was then the Soviet Union.

Mario Lemieux finished off a 2-on-1 with Wayne Gretzky in the third and deciding game of the 1987 Canada Cup, netting the winner in a 6-5 triumph. The previous two games had both been decided in overtime, with Alexander Semak, and Lemieux, scoring for their respective nations in 6-5 results.

And if there’s a goal that everyone remembers, it was scored in ’72 (thanks, The Tragically Hip).

“Paul Henderson has scored for Canada!” screamed Foster Hewitt into his microphone with 34 seconds left in Game 8 of the Summit Series. Final: Canada 6, CCCP 5.

But regardless of the actual gamesheet tally, perhaps the more meaningful number is the goal differential.

One.

That was the margin of difference in 1991 when John Slaney scored from the point. And in 1999 when Artem Chubarov beat Roberto Luongo in OT. And again in 2003 when Yuri Trubachev completed the comeback in Halifax. And once again in 2009 in the semi-finals, when Jordan Eberle scored in the shootout. Well ok, his tying goal with single digits left in regulation was more dramatic.

The United States is Canada’s most hated current rival. But the animosity has existed only since Belleville, Ontario-born Brett Hull helped lead the Americans to the 1996 World Cup.

If there’s an adversary that has held up for at least a generation, it’s Russia, or its previous Soviet incarnation.

Canada and Russia can almost be counted upon to provided a thrilling contest that is played to the final millisecond.

The 2015 world junior final was no exception.