Epic rally falls just short

CALGARY — Canada will not play for gold at the world junior hockey championship for the first time in over a decade.

CALGARY — Canada will not play for gold at the world junior hockey championship for the first time in over a decade.

The host country lost 6-5 to Russia in Tuesday’s semifinal, despite a four-goal burst in the third period.

Russia will meet Sweden for gold, while Canada faces Finland for bronze Thursday.

“They scored early. We didn’t react as well as we should have,” Canadian forward Brett Connolly said. “We’ve got to be better.”

The defending-champion Russians scored five times in the third period to beat Canada 5-3 in last year’s final in Buffalo, N.Y. Russia now has a chance at winning back-to-back titles for the first time since 2002 and 2003.

Russian captain Evgeni Kuznetsov, the lone returning player from last year’s squad, was a one-man wrecking crew with three goals and an assist.

Defencemen Nikita Nesterov and Alexander Khokhlachev and forward Nikita Kucherov also scored for the Russians.

Nail Yakupov, who plays for the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting, had three assists.

“We win. We’re pretty excited,” Yakupov said. “We beat Canada. Russia’s better than Canada.”

Connolly replied for Canada early in the second period. Trailing 6-1 in the third, Dougie Hamilton, Jaden Schwartz, Brendan Gallagher and Brandon Gormley all scored for Canada in just under a five-minute span starting at 9:27.

Canada outshot Russia 56-24, but didn’t bury enough chances early in the game.

“I believed in us the whole time,” said Canadian goaltender Mark Visentin, who came into the game after an injury to starter Scott Wedgewood.

“I think we did a great job regrouping in the second intermission. As we started taking it, I don’t even think they entered our zone once in the third period. It shows how good we played.

“That’s the type of hockey we need to play for three periods if we want to win. To see us rally like that is incredible.”

Andrei Vasilevski stopped 44 of 49 shots, but was replaced by Andrei Makarov after Gormley’s goal at 4:17. Makarov stopped all seven shots he faced.

Canada pressed for the equalizer, but couldn’t get it. Ryan Strome hit the post and Connolly had a chance at his rebound with less than a minute remaining.

Wedgewood allowed four goals on 14 shots. He left the game at 8:48 of the second period when Khokhlachev crashed into the net on Kuznetsov’s third goal. Visentin stopped eight of 10 shots in relief.

Canada played in the final every year from 2002 to 2011 with a 5-5 record.

With the bar set so high for Canada’s junior teams, the loss was crushing for this year’s squad. Russia dominated them for two periods.

When Wedgewood left the game, the Canadians lost their cool in the second period. Russia scored their fifth goal and second on the power play when Gallagher took a high-sticking penalty on Mikael Naumenkov.

Boone Jenner was given a game misconduct for spearing later in the period and Jonathan Huberdeau took a misconduct for slashing with just under two minutes two go.

The Canadians stayed out of the penalty box in the third period and scored two of their four goals with a man advantage.

Canada had gone undefeated in four games in the preliminary round. They’d outscored their opposition 9-0 in the first period and 26-5 overall, but they were not prepared for the speed and skill of the Russians.

Russia needed overtime to get by the Czech Republic 2-1 in Monday’s quarter-final, but it was the faster team out of the gates.

They were scrambling as Canada gained momentum late in the third, but had done enough work early to get the victory.

Coming into the game, protection of their own zone seemed to be Russia’s weakness, but they were skilled at getting their sticks in front of the Canadians to prevent them from getting clean shots away.

Sweden edged Finland 3-2 in a shootout earlier Tuesday to advance to the championship game.

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