VIENNA -- "It got a little bit more interesting than it should have," Team Canada forward Kris Draper said yesterday with a chuckle.
Indeed, it did.
A world hockey championship semi-final yesterday that was threatening to become a blowout when the Canadians built a 4-0 lead early in the second period, evolved into a 4-3 nailbiter that required some superb goaltending from Martin Brodeur to salvage.
But either way, the result produced the effect Team Canada wanted. They advanced to today's gold-medal final -- they have won the previous two -- against the Czech Republic (2 p.m., TSN).
"We got the win," Canadian defenceman Dan Boyle said. "That's all that matters. Years from now, nobody is going to care how we played in the second and third period."
It's just as well. The Canadian game left something to be desired.
But, as is so often the case in tournaments involving the International Ice Hockey Federation, the refereeing was much worse than anything the players produced.
This is the world championship, but Finnish referee Hannu Henriksson performed at a garage-league level and took the game away from the fans. A series of dubious first-period calls played a major role in the development of Canada's big lead. And because of that lead, Canada sat back and the Russians made a game of it.
Had the referee done his job properly, it probably would have been a tight game with both teams producing a high-level performance. The result might have been the same. It might not. But at least the players would have determined it and the spectacle would have been better.
The Canadians knew that if they pressured goaltender Maxim Sokholov, they would probably be rewarded for their efforts and right off the bat, they went to the attack.
Defenceman Wade Redden carried the puck up, and, encountering only token resistance at the blue line, kept going right to the edge of the crease. Sokholov made the first save, but Redden got his own rebound and shot again. And again. Finally, it went in, and only 98 seconds into the game, Canada was in front.
At that point, Henriksson took over and turned the proceedings into a travesty, calling nine penalties in the first period -- six to Russia, three to Canada. Given the benefit of Henriksson's largesse, the Canadians built a 3-0 lead, first getting a goal from Sheldon Souray on a nifty pass from Joe Thornton, then another from Dany Heatley during a five-on-three advantage.
The fourth Canadian goal, scored early in the second period, was on a power-play assessed late in the first period. This time, it was Ed Jovanovski sneaking in from the point to beat Sokholov.
But for some reason, the Canadians then shut it down.
"When we scored our fourth goal, you could just see it right after," Brodeur said.
"They didn't do anything special. I think it was us. We just didn't pay attention to the little details the way we did in the first period."
"That was obviously our best first period in the whole tournament," Boyle said. "But then -- and we've all it seen before -- when teams have a lead, they kind of stay back and try not to make mistakes. That's when you get bitten.
"We played that way and it backfired, so hopefully it's a lesson learned. We just really stopped playing offensively. We didn't do anything in the second and third and they're skilled enough to create things out there. It's definitely not the way you want to play against those guys."
Alexander Semin scored on a lovely shot off a faceoff to open the Russian scoring, before Alexei Yashin's shot hit Chris Phillips' skate and went in to make it 4-2. Then, 6:27 into the third period, Ovechkin brought the Russians to within one.
After that, there were some close calls and some tense moments. But that's as close as the Russians got.