Team Canada went into today's semi-final match in the World Cup of Hockey 2004 against the Czech Republic with a flawless 4 and 0 record. Easily the favorites in today's match-up, they had the benefit of Home Ice Advantage and knowing their opponent would be fighting the wearying effects of jet-lag, having to travel from Europe for the game. The only thing that might have caused concern for the Canadians was an injury to goalie Martin Brodeur's wrist that would keep him out of the game. And this only days after becoming the first Canadian goalie in history to post a shut-out in International Hockey.
Enter Roberto Luongo.
Facing enormous pressure, the Florida Panthers goalie took to the ice to net-mind for Team Canada... And it's a good thing he did!
The Czech Republic showed today just how they were able to eliminate Sweden so handily. They skated hard, back-checked ferociously, and stripped the puck from the Canadian sticks again and again. Throughout the First Period, it looked as if Canada had forgotten to put their skates on! The Czechs dominated all over the ice!
The tide began to turn going into the Second, as Canada found their legs and managed to post 2 goals, including Mario Lemieux's first of the tournament, in a little over 3 minutes. But the Czechs simply would not give up and came right back with a two goals of their own. The game had opened up, and it would be up to the goalies to keep their teams in it.
Luongo rose to the challenge with more amazing saves than you could ever hope to see in one game. At one point, he made 3 miraculous stops on shots from close range... without his stick!
In the Third Period, Kris Draper was able to get a step on his defensive coverage and streak down the inboards into the Czech zone. He let a blistering shot go that beat the Czech goalie on the glove side and put Canada up 3-2. With only minutes left in the game, the crowd at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto began to celebrate. They could taste victory... But that celebration was only to last 6 seconds.
Right off the face off, the puck popped into the Canadian zone. The defensive team, struggling to contain a Czech player racing for the net, became entangled with each other and could only watch helplessly as Patrik Elias one-timed the puck right through Luongo. The period ended 3-3 and the two teams went back to the dressing rooms to prepare themselves for Sudden Death Overtime.
The first overtime period didn't look much different from the rest of the game, with the Czech Republic continuing to stump and frustrate Team Canada. The fear that Canada might not make it out of this game was growing...
Then, beginning with a harmless play behind the Czech net, it happened.
Vincent Lacavalier, falling, managed to scoop the puck out from behind the net. He immediately regained his feet and took a position to the left of the Czech goalie. The pass came... The goalie went down... And the puck went through Lacavalier's skates. But he spun, picked it up again, and fired blindly from a near impossible angle. As if in slow motion, the puck floated up, up, and over the Czech goalie.
Horns. Flashing lights. Crowd gone wild.
Canada wins their semi-final game against the Czech Republic in overtime by a score of 4-3 and earns the right to play Finland for the World Cup this Tuesday. Both teams will go into the contest unbeaten, Canada with 5 wins, 0 losses, and Finland with 4 wins, no losses, and 1 tie.