Canada fights on, off ice

Canada is showing very little concern for any opponent standing in its way at the IIHF World Hockey Championship.

Sweden’s Tim Erixon

Sweden’s Tim Erixon

KOSICE, Slovakia — Canada is showing very little concern for any opponent standing in its way at the IIHF World Hockey Championship.

The reward for completing a perfect run through the round robin is an early date with Russia in the quarter-finals, but the Canadians knew that would be the outcome if they beat Sweden on Monday night.

However, it didn’t keep them from giving their best effort during a 3-2 victory.

“You can’t pick your poison,” said Canadian coach Ken Hitchcock.

“They’re all going to be good teams and you might get them early, you might get them late. But for us it doesn’t matter who we play, we’re going to have to beat them all to get to the next level. …

“Winning’s a feeling and you don’t want to let go of the feeling.”

Hitchcock also displayed a fighting spirit during a heated post-game exchange with Leif Boork, a former Swedish national team coach who now writes a newspaper column.

Boork felt Canadian captain Rick Nash delivered a blindside hit on Mikael Backlund late in the second period and Hitchcock didn’t agree with his assessment.

“I thought it was a good hit, you thought it was a bad hit, so ask another question — we’re not going to debate it,” Hitchcock said before walking out of the press conference.

Just like that, a tournament that had been off to a sleepy start felt like it had some intrigue.

Next up for the Canadian team is a flight to Bratislava on today and a do-or-die game against the Russians at the Orange Arena on Thursday (TSN, 2:15 p.m. ET).

Before then, they’ll learn if the IIHF wants to further discipline Nash for his huge open-ice hit on Backlund. The captain received a two-minute penalty for charging on the play and felt that it was sufficient punishment.

“I don’t know if I left my feet or what it was, but I might have a bit,” said Nash. “It’s tough to put people in that situation but he kind of just watched his pass and had his head down.”

Swedish coach Par Marts disagreed.

“I think the hit on Backlund should give him a game misconduct, it was a blindside hit,” he told reporters in Swedish. “I hope the IIHF disciplinary committee will review the hit.”

The game was the most effective of the tournament for Nash, who was credited with the winning goal at 12:31 of the third period. He was providing a screen on goalie Erik Ersberg but didn’t appear to deflect a point shot from Brent Burns.

When talking to reporters afterwards, the two players initially indicated the other had scored it. Then Burns reconsidered.

“If he doesn’t want it, I’ll take it though,” he said.

James Neal and John Tavares had the other goals for Canada (6-0) while David Petrasek and Mattias Tedenby replied for the Swedes (4-2).

Jonathan Bernier earned his second straight start in goal and finished with 23 saves, making him the most likely choice to play against Russia. Hithcock said he’d sleep on the choice between Bernier and James Reimer, just as he did prior to the game with Sweden.

“He certainly took a step (forward),” Hitchcock said of Bernier. “He was very good. We needed him tonight, we really needed him.”

The final game of the tournament at Steel Arena was played before an enthusiastic sellout crowd of 7,633 who sang, clapped and whistled throughout.

It made for a delightful atmosphere that was matched by the intense play on the ice. Even though the winner faced the spectre of playing Russia while the loser got Germany in the quarter-finals, it was clear both Canada and Sweden gave their best.

“I think it’s a lot of pride,” said Burns. “Both teams wanted to win and test themselves (because) everybody’s got to get better as the tournament goes along. Obviously, we knew that they were going to be a big test for us — they’ve got a great team with a lot of size, skill.”

Canada managed to handle it in a back-and-forth game. The team isn’t expecting it to get any easier against a Russian squad that has struggled despite the arrival of Alex Ovechkin and the presence of other top players.

“With experienced teams, I don’t think you can judge anything until now,” said Hitchcock. “This is a team, they’ve played in a lot of Olympics, they’ve played in world championships. Their time is now, they’ll play well.

“They know when they have to play and they’re capable of dialing it up.”

Hitchcock has coached against the Russians at a number of international events, including the 2010 Olympics when Canada stormed to a stunning 7-3 victory in Vancouver. A number of those players are here as well.

“We know them,” said Hitchcock.

Notes: Hockey Canada will auction a game-worn sweater from each player on eBay starting May 10 … Canada wore its red sweaters for the fourth time in the tournament … The Swedes dressed 14 forwards and six defencemen because blue-liners Nicklas Grossman (knee) and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (wrist) are out with injuries … Ottawa Senators prospect David Runblad played his first game for Sweden at the event.