This time, it was Rick Nash’s turn to play late-game hero.
Canada continued to cut it close at the IIHF World Championship yesterday, but Nash’s game-winning goal with 3:58 left helped them narrowly escape with a 2-1 victory over underdog Norway before a crowd of 7,380 at the Metro Centre.
The win came just 48 hours after Canada beat the United States 5-4 on a last-minute goal from Dany Heatley.
Norway’s stingy neutral-zone trap and a spectacular 50-save performance from goalie Pal Grotnes had the smallest home crowd of the tournament thinking overtime.
“It just comes down to desperation,” defenceman Mike Green said. “We really needed a goal and we didn’t want to go to overtime with these guys, with the way they play. It was a great play by Nash. He just seems to find a way.”
Nash, a Columbus Blue Jackets winger, has a knack for highlight-reel goals, for anyone who remembers him undressing two defencemen and a goalie against the Phoenix Coyotes back in January. He was at it again last night.
He muscled to the net off the left wing and tucked it wide on his backhand past the outstretched pad of Grotnes.
Nash called it a good “team-building game.”
Norway has been the surprise of the tournament, taking Finland to overtime in the round robin, beating Germany, and edging out Slovakia for the final qualification spot.
“They played a great defensive game, they made it very hard to penetrate their system, but we needed to find a way earlier in the game,” said Green, who had a goal and an assist.
Canada struggled on 10 power-play chances, but its penalty-kill shut down Norway with game on the line, taking care of five straight penalties, including multiple 5-on-3s.
Head coach Ken Hitchcock said he was happier after last night’s win than he was after Tuesday’s, and credited Norway for its “commitment to defensive hockey.”
“The ability of the Norwegian team to defend, at times, was greater than our tenacity to score,” Hitchcock said.
Former Halifax Mooseheads goalie Pascal Leclaire made 15 saves for Canada.
Grotnes, a carpenter away from the rink, nearly stole the game with his heroics, but Norway’s fatigue from an emotional win over Germany on Wednesday took its toll down the stretch.
“The legs were heavy,” stated Norwegian head coach Roy Johansen, “but we did the best we could.”