The knuckleball strikes!

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:11 PM ET

INNSBRUCK, Austria -- Off. On. Throughout the tournament and significant parts of the always very scary crossover quarter-final elimination game, it looked like the three-peat was off for Canada.

At the time Team Canada swore they'd bring their 'A' game to the big game, they were true to their word, and turned it on.

On a day when Martin Brodeur was off, Canada came on. On a day when all their puck luck was bad, on came one of the luckiest winning goals to win a major international hockey game since Tommy Salo and Belarus at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

Team Canada kept telling themselves Jan Lasak hadn't let in his bad one yet.

When it mattered most, he did.

From the exact same spot just inside the blueline where Dany Heatley fired the winner in overtime last year, Joe Thornton scored the winner here yesterday with 4:22 to play to give Canada a 5-4 win in a wild and wonderful game to watch.

Slovakia was going for the home run with big pass plays from the get-go, but in the end it was a knuckleball which struck them out to send them home from the IIHF World Hockey Championship.

"Wasn't that a special one? It was definitely a knuckleball. A real Tim Wakefield job," Thornton said of his Red Sox pitching friend.

SURPRISED HIM

"I think I surprised him a bit," he added of Lasak, who was tripped behind the net by Rod Niedermayer last year in the semifinal as Shawn Horcoff fired the winner. "I just shot it and it went in. We kept telling ourselves 'Keep shooting the puck at him, you never know.' "

It almost hit his head. "When it went in, I was more surprised than he was. When the red light went on, I couldn't believe it. It was lucky."

Did he think Tommy Salo when it went in?

"No," said Thornton. "Did you?"

Absolutely. Instantly. Didn't everybody?

"It can happen to anybody," said Brodeur.

"People see a goal go in from that far and think it's not tough. But those shots can be tough. I think that was a better shot than the one on Tommy Salo."

Heatley said he wasn't going to compare his winner last year with Thornton's this year. "It was a goal. We'll take it."

Ziggy Palffy threaded the needle with a perfect pass to Martin Gaborik, who was tripped from behind by Ed Jovanovski but kept his balance and somehow managed to pop back to his feet, and then went forehand to backhand to beat Brodeur at 0:45 with the most gorgeous goal of the tournament. "It's not easy to go into a game like that and 45 seconds in be down 1-0," said Brodeur.

Heatley, missing in action most of the tournament, tied it up on a power play using Ryan Smyth as a screen, but Brodeur made a ridiculously early attempt at a poke check to leave Michal Handzus an empty net to shoot at for a 2-1 lead at 8:22.

"I've made that move before when guys come flying in on me, but maybe his hair was flying and he looked like he was coming faster than he was," said Brodeur. "I'd love that goal back."

Smyth finished off a behind the net, beside the net, across the crease pass play to tie it up before the end of the period in which there was more action than in Canada's previous six periods combined.

Throughout the second, Canada won just about every faceoff and owned the puck and dominated play.

Canada took the lead when Simon Gagne scored his first of two but gave it back when Kris Draper took a dumb retaliation penalty to provide the Slovaks with a 5-on-3. Pavol Demitra scored his first of two with a shot off Brodeur's glove.

Then Brodeur made up for his earlier gaffes when he was sprawled on the ice, having been beaten by Palffy only to somehow get his glove up to make the save on a penalty shot.

GETTING THE LEAD BACK

A Thornton giveaway resulted in the Slovaks getting the lead back with Demitra scoring his second of the game.

But Nash set up Gagne, Canada's player of the game, for his second and it was game on again. Even when Thornton scored, it wasn't over. A penalty to Robin Regehr with 2:44 left made it an adventure to the final seconds.

"It was a weird game," said Brodeur.

"Tonight everybody exploded," said Thornton of the entire team showing up for the go-to-Vienna-or-go-home game.

"It says a lot about Canada," said Heatley. "Any time Team Canada comes together at this tournament, we get tested in this game. We fought back and kept our composure."

Off to Vienna. On to Wiener Stadthalle.


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