Kevin Poulin backstops Canada's hockey men to Olympic quarter-finals

Ex-Islanders goalie pitches 19-save shutout vs. winless Korea in qualifying round finale

Kevin Poulin backstops Canada's hockey men to Olympic quarter-finals
Kevin Poulin makes one of his 19 saves in a shutout performance in Sunday's 4-0 victory over host South Korea to Canada to the Olympic quarter-finals. © Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

By Doug Harrison, CBC Sports

Former New York Islanders goalie Kevin Poulin led Canada to a quarter-final berth at the Olympics with a 19-save shutout in Sunday's 4-0 victory over host Korea in its final game of the preliminary round.

Christian Thomas, Eric O'Dell, Max Lapierre and Gilbert Brule scored their first goals of the tourney for Canada, which ended the qualifying round as the best second-place team with a 2-1 record. The Canadians join the three group winners in advancing directly to the quarter-finals, where they will face Finland should the Finns prevail against Korea in Tuesday's qualification-round game.

"We've had a couple of good games but we've got our toughest hockey coming up and we know that," Canada head coach Willie Desjardins said.

Bypassing the playoff qualification round means an extra day off for Canada, which will no doubt be appreciated given the average age is 31-plus.

The other three clubs proceeding directly to the quarter-finals are group winners Sweden, Czech Republic and the Olympic Athletes from Russia team.

Here's the playoff qualification-round schedule:

  • Feb. 19: United States vs. Slovakia, 10:10 p.m. ET
  • Feb. 20: Slovenia vs. Norway, 2:40 a.m.
  • Feb. 20: Finland vs. Korea, 7:10 a.m.
  • Feb. 20: Switzerland vs. Germany, 7:10 a.m.

Poulin came up big when needed at the Gangneung Hockey Centre, especially early in the second period with Canada clinging to a 1-0 lead and forward Mason Raymond serving a high-sticking penalty.

The 27-year-old backup netminder, who's playing in Austria this season for Zagreb Medvescak KHL, made several stops but none bigger than when he stretched his right leg to deny Jin Hui Ahn on a one-timer with 26 seconds left in the man-advantage.

"Some really good scoring chances by Korea in tight and Kevin Poulin time and time again was called upon to keep this a 1-0 game," analyst Craig Button said during the second intermission. "That was never, ever part of the game plan but it goes to show you that many players, especially the goaltender, have to be ready to perform.

"Kevin Poulin has been excellent in this game and I don't think anybody across [Canada] would have said he was going to need to be that."

Poulin also gave Canadians a scare later in the period when he landed awkwardly on his right leg but remained in the game.

The Montreal native wasn't called upon much in the opening period, but stopped defenceman Eric Regan's shot through a maze of players from just inside the blue-line to keep his team ahead.

"They work their butts off and their goalie [Matt Dalton] seems to play well against us. Maybe because he's Canadian, he steps up," said Canadian defenceman Chris Lee

Dalton was outstanding at the other end, making 17 first-period stops and 45 overall for winless Korea, which was outscored 14-1 in the preliminary round. The 31-year-old native of Clinton, Ont., who has dual citizenship after moving to South Korea in 2014, is one of six Canadian-born players on the squad and was recently named the Asia league's best goaltender for the third time.

"After the first period I was trying to get some salt tablets or something. My legs were starting to cramp up a little bit. … It woke me up, that's for sure," said Dalton, whom the Boston Bruins twice recalled during the 2009-10 NHL season but he never appeared in a game.

Canada finally solved the undrafted NHLer at 7:36 of the first period when Thomas, son of ex-Toronto Maple Leafs winger Steve Thomas, took a Chay Genoway feed and snapped a shot to the glove side under the crossbar. Thomas was back in the lineup after sitting out Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Czech Republic in favour of Brandon Kozun.

Canada had a glorious chance to extend its lead with two minutes left in the period. Forward Wojtek Wolski, who scored twice in his team's tournament-opening 5-1 victory over Switzerland, was sent in alone with his team shorthanded and backhanded a shot off the post.

O'Dell, whom the Anaheim Ducks drafted in the second round in 2008, made it 2-0 when he tapped in a puck that ricocheted off the end boards after blue-liner Marc-Andre Gragnani shot it wide.

Rene Bourque, who led Canada with three goals in its first two games, was held to two shots in 16 minutes 29 seconds of ice time. But in fairness to the one-time Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens winger, he wasn't playing at full health after hurting his left hand blocking a shot in the Czech game.

​With files from The Canadian Press