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Russia shuts out Finland to set up another Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin clash

TORONTO -- Canada and Russia will meet in the semifinals of the World Cup of Hockey on Saturday. The hopes of many fans in these parts were dashed Thursday when the Russians calmly disposed of Finland 3-0 in their round-robin finale.

The victory lifted Russia to the same 2-1-0 record as North America, but the 23-and-under kids did not advance thanks to the Russians' victory over Connor McDavid's crew in round-robin play.

A Finland victory Thursday would have sent North America into a semifinal against Team Canada, a matchup that had many people salivating given its unique nature. The 23-and-under North America team was half-composed of Canadians, and the idea of seeing McDavid versus Sidney Crosby just too much fun.

Instead, we'll have to settle for another round of Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin, which is always intriguing although very much one-sided in the Canadian superstar's favor.

Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins have twice eliminated Ovechkin's Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup playoffs, including last spring, and a Crosby-led Team Canada crushed Ovechkin and Russia in the 2010 Olympic quarterfinals at Vancouver, the last time both countries met in best-on-best hockey. And Crosby's Canadian squad even beat Ovechkin's Russian side at the 2005 world junior championships for gold.

So perhaps this is Ovechkin's chance, finally, to get his pound of flesh -- and on Canadian ice, no less. This is Russia's first trip to the semifinals of a best-on-best event since the 2006 Torino Olympics, where Ovechkin and the Russians lost in the semifinals to Finland.

Full credit is due to Russia for advancing to the semifinals here after a disappointing quarterfinal exit in its own Olympics in Sochi in 2014. In that game, the Finns beat Russia 3-1, so this was sweet revenge.

Ovechkin made a brilliant play Thursday to set up Vladimir Tarasenko 3:42 into the middle period to open the scoring, and it was all the offense the Russians would need. Russia played a strong defensive game and very much limited Finland's opportunities. Finland, back-to-back Olympic bronze medalists, bows out with a 0-3-0 record, disappointing for sure by its own high standards. A lack of offense in this tourney -- the Finns scored only once in three games -- would be the team's downfall.

Three Stars

1. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, Russia: The St. Louis Blues star was flying in this game, nearly scoring from the high slot in the opening period and then finishing off Ovechkin's pretty feed in the second period.

2. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Russia: The captain wasn't going to let his team bow out early again in a best-on-best tournament. His creativity on the opening goal was vintage Ovechkin.

3. Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Russia: The Columbus Blue Jackets netminder wasn't overly tested but looked poised. The former Vezina Trophy winner looks to be in fine form.