TORONTO — Sidney Crosby was at his best on one of hockey’s biggest stages.
Crosby scored once and assisted on both of Brad Marchand’s goals, including the winner early the third period, to help Canada beat Russia 5-3 on Saturday night in the World Cup of Hockey semifinals.
“He always comes up big in the big games,” Marchand said.
The Canadians will face the winner of the Sweden-Team Europe game Sunday in the best-of-three finals.
Crosby opened the scoring at 7:40 into the game on a spectacular sequence, showing he has plenty of energy despite having a brief summer between winning the Stanley Cup and competing in the World Cup.
“It was short, but exciting, knowing we were coming here,” he said.
Sergei Bobrovsky made 16 of his 42 saves in the first period, keeping the Russians in it.
Nikita Kucherov made it 1-all midway through the first and Evgeny Kuznetsov put Russia ahead 2-1 with 3:36 left in the second.
Corey Perry gave Canada a two-goal cushion at 5:48 of the third and John Tavares made it 4-2 midway through the period.
Carey Price made 22 saves for the Canadians.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time Stanley Cup champion made a cross-crease pass to set up Marchand for his tying goal just 1:12 after Russia went ahead.
With a chance to take a pivotal lead in the third, Crosby chose to give up the puck, not shoot it. He deftly dropped a pass to Marchand atop the left circle to assist on the game-winning goal 1:16 into the third.
Russia was not in a position to come back in a game in which it gave up more than twice as many shots as it put on the Price-protected net until pulling their goalie late in the game to add an extra skater in a nothing-to-lose attempt to get back in the game.
Price made some momentum-stunting saves early in the first, but backchecking forwards and poke-checking defensemen made his job relatively easy.
As usual in a matchup of NHL superstars, Crosby came out on top against Alex Ovechkin.
And, it looked as if it might be that way even before the puck dropped.
Both captains were called the center ice for a goodwill gesture, pairing them up with young boys on skates holding flags that represented each country.
While Crosby put his arm around the youngster next to him, a stone-faced Ovechkin stood with his gloves at his side.
The Washington center bristles at any mention of his matchups with the Pittsburgh center.
It’s easy to understand.
Crosby helped the host Canadians crush the Ovechkin-led Russians 7-3 in the quarterfinals of the 2010 Vancouver Games. Four years later, with a chance at redemption at the Winter Olympics in Russia, Ovechkin couldn’t do enough to help his team get past the quarterfinals while Crosby and the Canadians earned gold again.
Crosby is coming off his second Stanley Cup championship run. Ovechkin, meanwhile, is left waiting and wondering if he’ll ever hoist the coveted trophy.
While Ovechkin has become regarded as only a one-way player, whose slap shot is still one of the best in hockey, Crosby excels with or without the puck on offense or defense.
He showed that with an unassisted goal early in the World Cup semifinals.
Crosby skated hard into a corner, forcing Alexey Marchenko to give up the puck earlier than he wanted. Dmitry Kulikov ended up with the puck in the left circle, but he didn’t have it long because Crosby snatched it away.
He made the puck dance on both sides of his stick as he skated across the front of the crease and as soon as Bobrovsky went down on his left hip, Crosby backhanded the puck into the net.
Ovechkin, meanwhile, didn’t have a shot through two periods and finished with just two.
“Maybe he doesn’t have enough of luck,” Russian coach Oleg Znarok said through an interpreter.