Thirty-three years to the day after the Montreal Canadiens and Central Red Army took part in the greatest hockey game ever played, Canada and the United States put together a New Year's Eve classic of their own at the World Junior Hockey Championship.
Down 3-0 early to a very strong American squad, John Tavares led the Canadians right back into the game with a hat trick as the four-time defending gold medalists defeated the United States 7-4 in one of the most exciting games ever played at the tournament.
"It was unbelievable," Canadian defenceman Ryan Ellis told TSN after the game. "We were jumping up and down in the dressing room after the first period - we had to settle down. There were so many momentum changes and so many emotions, but it was a fun game to play and a fun game to watch."
With the win, Canada gets a bye to the semifinals on Saturday while the Americans head to the quarterfinal round with a game against Slovakia on Friday (TSN, TSN HD and TSN.ca at 7pm et/4pm pt). Since the introduction of the 10-team, tournament-style format in 1996, teams with a bye have a record of 15-5 in the semifinals.
The U.S. squad got off to a quick start with Kevin Shattenkirk opening the scoring at the 3:49 mark on a two-on-one.
The Canadians didn't respond well to their first deficit of the tournament, with Chris DiDominico, Cody Goloubef and Tyler Myers taking three straight trips to the penalty box and allowing Jimmy Hayes to make it 2-0 with a 5-on-3 power play. Jim O'Brien then beat netminder Dustin Tokarski from the top of the right faceoff circle for a three-goal lead.
With the fans in Kanata silenced, Tavares sprung into action with his fifth power play goal of the tournament to put Canada on the board. Just over two minutes later, Tavares beat U.S. goaltender Thomas McCollum with his second goal of the night. Jordan Eberle added another goal on the man-advantage less than 60 seconds afterwards to put Canada and the sold-out crowd of 20,223 back in the game.
"We didn't really get tested and it was great to get tested in this game," said Eberle. "We were down three goals and came right back. Even when we went back and forth for a while, we got stronger as the game went on."
With Canada on another power play to start the second period, Zach Boychuk beat McCollum just 37 seconds in to give Canada its first lead of the game. The Americans responded again with the man-advantage on Jonathan Blum's goal to make it 4-4, but Cody Hodgson put Canada back on top with yet another power play marker.
With all the offence generated by both teams, there was also some great goaltending on display. With Colin Wilson holding the puck at the Canadian crease for what seemed to be an eternity, Tokarski read him perfectly and made a brilliant glove save on his point-blank shot.
"The guy was left open in front," explained Tokarksi. "I went down and just played it like I should. He made a good move and I was just out of position. I dove at it, battled, and just made the save."
Teammate PK Subban had a much more blunt description of the save he saw. "It was disgusting," he said flatly.
Tokarski, making his first start since Canada's 6-1 win over the Czech Republic in the opener, settled down from there and held off the U.S. in the third period. He foiled the Americans' top line of Wilson, Jordan Schroeder and James van Riemsdyk on several scoring chances, including a great two-on-one chance and another point-blank shot by Wilson in front of the crease.
"To win it in front of the crowd like that and for your teammates was a huge boost," added Tokarski. "It wasn't the start I was looking for and I was given the choice to bail out or keep going. I kept going and John Tavares got us rolling like a leader does."
Tavares scored into an empty net with 47 seconds left to complete the hat trick, and Tyler Ennis added another to cap a three-goal victory. Tavares now has 12 career goals at the World Juniors, tied for the all-time record held by both Eric Lindros and Jeff Carter.
"It's just part of being a leader," Tavares told TSN. "Stepping up and leading by example. I told the guys we just have to settle down and relax. Just learning from last year I wanted to make sure I delivered and once the guys saw that I think it got us going."
Canada is now 28-5-3 all-time against the United States at the World Junior Hockey Championship.