PRAGUE, Czech Republic — After five straight disappointing quarter-final defeats at the world hockey championship, Canada wasted little time ensuring there would not be a sixth early exit.
Defenceman Brent Burns scored just 27 seconds into the game en route to a four-point night, and Canada set the tone early in a dominant 9-0 thrashing of Belarus in a world championship quarter-final Thursday.
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS: | Broadcast Schedule
Rogers NHL GameCentre LIVE | Stanley Cup Playoffs Fantasy Hockey
New Sportsnet app: iTunes | Google Play
“We wanted to start quickly,” said coach Todd McLellan. “We thought that some of the games that the Belarusians won, they were comfortable early.
“Sometimes the plan doesn’t go as laid out, but tonight it did. We scored right on the very first shift then had some good shifts after that so we had a chance to push a team back that maybe wasn’t sure of themselves.”
The impressive offensive showing moved Canada into the semifinals for the first time in six years.
“It’s nice to put ourselves in a position to get to the finals,” team captain Sidney Crosby said. “The important thing is to get better every game and at this point you’ve got to be at your best. It’s win or go home, so we did a good job today.”
Canada rolled through the preliminary round of the tournament with a perfect record but wanted to avoid complacency heading into the playoffs, where one bad game can end a team’s gold-medal hopes. Thursday’s fast start went a long way to prevent a letdown.
“That was one thing that we wanted to make sure that we did,” said defenceman Aaron Ekblad. “If you remember against Sweden (where Canada fell behind 3-0 in the first period), one of the main topics for us is to get a good start.”
Burns led Canada with two goals and two assists. Forward Tyler Seguin added three goals to tie for the tournament lead with eight, while Ryan O’Reilly scored twice. Tyler Ennis and Jason Spezza also scored.
Canada now has a total of 58 goals over the first eight games of the tournament, a new Canadian record since NHL players started participating in 1977. Canada scored 57 goals over 10 games in 1989.
The Canadian defence held the dangerous Belarusian top line of brothers Sergei and Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexei Kalyuzhny off the scoresheet. The trio combined for 26 points in the seven-game preliminary round.
Belarus turned some heads by reaching the elimination round for the second straight year.
“We got beat by an excellent team that has high skill, great coaching and the ability to win in different ways,” said Belarus coach Dave Lewis, originally from Kindersley, Sask.
“I told our players to forget this game. This game does not exist in their mind — I want it washed away. I’m proud of the group and I want the group to be proud of what they’ve done.”
The best chances for Belarus came in the second period, when Mike Smith stopped 13 of the 24 shots he faced in the game.
“It was great,” he said of his first shutout of the tournament. “I think we kind of got away from our gameplan a bit in the second period and they came at us a little bit. That’s a good team. If you give them chances, they can hurt you.
“We got back at it in the third and were able to get through, so we’re happy with the outcome.”
Canada will face the winner of the quarter-final between Finland and the Czech Republic, which was played later Thursday. Todd McLellan said his team will be ready either way.
“We had the opportunity to play a very hard game against the Czech team (in the preliminary round),” McLellan recalled. “Their advantage is playing in this building with their rabid fans behind them and the energy that they bring.
“The Finns are always a hard group to play. Their puck protection skills and their grit and determination is second to none in the tournament and they’ve got a big goaltender (Pekka Rinne) in net that’s capable of winning the tournament by himself. That alone creates a big challenge.”
Elsewhere, the United States advanced with a 3-1 win over Switzerland. The Americans will play the winner of the quarter-final between Russia and Sweden.