For pure hockey junkies, the IIHF World Championships are always must-see TV. Though players participating have already seen their NHL seasons end (otherwise they wouldn’t be there) and despite the fact that the Stanley Cup playoffs are concurrent with it, the “Worlds” are still a favorite of many hockey purists.
On Saturday, the semifinals of the tournament – which dates all the way back to 1920 – commence, with Finland vs. Russia and Canada vs. the Czech Republic. The championship game will be on Sunday, at Ondrej Nepala Arena in Slovakia (all games on NHL Network).
The bookmakers like Russia to win, at -134 at 888Sport, and here’s why:
Russian Firepower Up Front at Worlds
There is no question that Russia’s offensive personnel is the best of any team, on paper anyway. This is a team with participating players such as Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nikita Kucherov, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Ilya Kovalchuk and Artem Anisimov. Good luck stopping that.
So far, the Russians have scored three or more goals in every game of the tournament, which started May 11. Kucherov has 16 points so far in eight games. The Russians got a very tough game from Team USA in the quarterfinals but held on for a 4-3 win.
Their opponent in the semis, Finland, won’t be a pushover. They just knocked off two-time defending champion Sweden. But the Finns are hurt by the absences of such NHL stars as Patrik Laine, Mikko Rantanen, Aleksander Barkov and Sebastian Aho.
They do have Kaapo Kakko participating, however, and he has six goals in eight games – showing why he is considered a shoo-in to go either first or second in the upcoming NHL draft.
But the disparity in offensive talent will be too much to overcome in this one for the Finns, especially with Andrei Vasilevsky the goalie for the Russians. Russia is -385 to win this game at 888Sport for good reason.
Hockey World Championship Odds 2019
Canadian Depth Not as Strong
Canada will play the Czechs in the other semifinal. Canada is expected to emerge the winner according to the bookmakers; the Canadians are -180 at 888Sport.
But the same reasons why the Finns will fall short against the Russians apply to the Canadians in a potential championship game.
Some of the country’s best players (Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Drew Doughty, Nathan MacKinnon either couldn’t play (like the injured McDavid) or declined. The sense of nationalism is strong for Russians in international tournaments, which is why you see their top stars usually participate if they’re available. Anthony Mantha and Mark Stone have been Canada’s top scorers so far (12 points each).
Otherwise, there’s just not enough quality depth on the Canadian roster to hang with the Russians, who seem hell-bent on winning this thing this year. Canada’s starting goalie, Matt Murray, has been good so far, with a .920 saves percentage and 1.99 goals-against. But Vasilevsky has been better (.938, 1.67).
The bookmakers expect Russia vs. Canada in the final with Russia to win it all, at-134 with 888Sport.