Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin pumped to renew 'huge' Canada-Russia rivalry

"It's Canada versus Russia, not two players," Alex Ovechkin says of the spotlight shining on him and Sidney Crosby. "Of course [the media] wants to do something special about it, but for us, it's more important [to get] a team victory and move forward." USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO -- Oh, there's a history between these two.

The rivalry between Team Canada and Team Russia will be rekindled -- and move front and center -- as the two once-perennial powerhouses meet in the semifinal round of the World Cup of Hockey at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday at Air Canada Centre.

But this isn't about the past. It's about right now.

"It's a big rivalry," said Team Canada captain and two-time Olympic gold-medal winner Sidney Crosby. "It's been there for a long time. Everyone, players included, gets excited for a possible matchup between Canada and Russia. It's going to be a big challenge. [Russia's] a highly skilled and talented team. We know that."

This is Russia's first trip to the semifinals in a best-on-best tournament since the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino. The Russians lost that year in the semifinals to Finland. The Finns also beat the Russians in the quarterfinals on their home soil in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Ovechkin says he isn't thinking about those losses. For him, it's all about the present.

"It's a long time ago and you can't think about what happened before, you have to think what's going to happen in the future," Ovechkin said. "Obviously, it's going to be a huge, big test for us. We have to play."

Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins twice eliminated Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup playoffs, including last spring en route to a Penguins championship. This matchup will also be the first time the rival nations have met in a best-on-best competition since Canada demolished Russia in the quarterfinals of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Crosby and Canada teammate Patrice Bergeron also defeated Ovechkin and Russia in the gold-medal game at the 2005 World Junior Championship.

"It's Canada versus Russia, not two players," Ovechkin said. "Of course [the media] wants to do something special about it, but for us, it's more important [to get] a team victory and move forward."

After his team's 3-0 win over Finland on Thursday, Ovechkin didn't make any bold predictions about revenge, but it sure would be something if Russia can beat Canada on its home ice.

"It's going to be a fun game," Ovechkin said. "It's nice to be a part of it, obviously, a rivalry game between two teams with a great history. It's going to be tough. It's going to be hard. They have a very good team, solid players, and we just have to match it."

Can Russia defeat Canada?

Yes. Because Sergei Bobrovsky can steal the game. The Russians don't match up well with Canada, but in a one-game situation, the goalie is good enough to do it. There's no way the Russians will beat Canada twice, but once is a possibility. Russia does have enough skill to hurt Canada if it gets sloppy. But if the Russians can take care of the little things -- block shots, create traffic and win puck battles -- then they have a chance. It's not as if these two teams are unfamiliar with each other. Nothing's new. Every player understands the opposition's tendencies and skill set.

So, will the Russians win?


Canada's too deep. Canada's too good. Canada's too explosive. Oh, and Canada has the best goaltender in the world in Carey Price. Russia's defense is equipped to handle any offensive onslaught that Canada can create, and Crosby will lead that charge.

Russia's victory over Finland meant that tournament darling Team North America was eliminated from the tournament. So now the focus will turn to Crosby vs. Ovechkin. The atmosphere at the Air Canada Centre should be electric. Some of the sizzle in the rivalry has fizzled in recent years because of Canada's dominance. On Saturday, it should return to an all-out slug fest.

"Everybody's going to be crazy," Ovechkin said. "The atmosphere will be unbelievable. It's going to be a great match to play, be involved or be in the stands, or on TV to watch this kind of rivalry. ... It's a big opportunity for us to beat Canada and be in the finals."