Call it unbelievable, surreal, bizarre, other-worldly.
It was all of those things as Canada, seemingly on cruise control to the world junior championship, shocked 18,690 partisans Wednesday night with an all-time choke job to lose 5-3 to Russia. It was the third time in as many games the Russians were seemingly out of contention when they came back to win.
The only ones who weren't surprised were the Russians. Asked why they were able to come from behind to win their last three games of the tournament, forward Evgeny Kuznetsov smiled and shouted, "Because we are Russians! We are champions!"
Front and centre in the debacle was goaltender Mark Visentin of the Ontario Hockey League's Niagara IceDogs, as he coughed up five goals in a little more than 13 minutes in the third period. For the second year in a row, the Canadians had to settle for the silver medal.
"There is no worse feeling than this loss," Visentin said. A few feet away and a few minutes later, Kuznetsov, who had three assists, said "it's the greatest feeling in the world."
The stomachs of the all-Canadian crowd started falling during a stretch of 4 minutes, 56 seconds early in the third period. The Russians, seemingly down and out with the Canadians ahead 3-0 after two periods, made yet another incredible comeback, just like they did against Finland and Sweden to make the gold-medal game.
They capitalized on what was Canada's Achilles heel, goaltending, to erase the Canadians' lead on just six shots. Artemi Panarin, Maxim Kitsyn and Vladimir Tarasenko scored on Visentin.
Visentin made a few decent saves earlier in the game but looked shaky during the comeback, although head coach Dave Cameron, unlike his Russian counterpart Valeri Bragin who yanked starter Dmitri Shikin after the third Canadian goal, left the youngster in the game. Cameron said he never thought about taking Visentin out of the game.
Especially notable was that Tarasenko scored the tying goal and set up the winner. He left the game in the second period when Canadian forward Marcus Foligno accidentally kicked him in the head in a collision along the boards. Tarasenko appeared to be badly hurt but came back for the third period.
The unthinkable happened at 13:22 when Tarasenko got to a puck first behind the Canadian net. He flipped it in front to Panarin, who scored his second goal to complete the Canadian nightmare with the winning goal. Nikita Dvurechenski made it a sure win for the Russians when he scored with 1:16 left in the third period.
"I don't know, I guess it just got away from us," Canadian defenceman Tyson Barrie said. "We've got to give them credit. They came from behind the last few games."
The Canadians did not dominate the Russians physically right from the start, as they did in polishing off the shell-shocked Americans two nights earlier, but they executed their game plan well, at least for two periods.
A major reason for Canada's success in the last two games of the tournament was the sudden improvement in its defence. Once again, the Canadian defencemen kept the pressure off Visentin by collapsing around the crease to keep the Russian shooters away from him. But Visentin undid all of their work in the final period.
It was not so much that the goaltender let in a series of bad goals. Only the second one by Kitsyn, which came 13 seconds after the first one, was really soft. But Visentin was not able to make a single big save when his team needed one.
Ryan Ellis and Carter Ashton, who scored with just 14 seconds left in the first period, put Canada ahead 2-0. At that point, it seemed like Canada would wearing gold medals for the first time since 2009.
Russian goaltender Igor Bobkov, who replaced Shinin in the second period, said Bragin actually lit into the team after the first period, not the second.
"It was bad words," was all Bobkov would say about the coach's message.
Bragin said through an interpreter that he just told them "to wake up," and "how to play."
Brayden Schenn made it 3-0 early in the second period, to get the crowd roaring. But all the noise died quickly in the first 10 minutes of the third.
A final bizarre note was that Schenn, who tied a Canadian record for points at the world junior tournament with 18, was voted the event's most-valuable player. That was only because the votes had to be in by the start of the third period.
The all-star team
Three Canadians were picked for the tournament all-star team: defenceman Ellis, Schenn and fellow forward Ryan Johansen. Also on the team were U.S. goaltender Jack Campbell and two Russians, defenceman Dmitri Orlov and forward Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Quote of the day
Buffalo Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn attended a news conference with International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel to discuss the world junior tournament. Quinn slyly paid tribute to the hundreds of thousands of tickets snapped up by Canadians when he said he would like "to host an event for USA Hockey sometime. I was really happy to host for Canada this year."
But if Quinn and the Sabres feel any pain about the dearth of American fans they can ease it with the healthy share of the profits they got from the tournament. One television report said their cut came to about two years worth of the profit they make on the Sabres.