2012 IIHF World Championship: Russia, Slovakia Battle For Gold

HELSINKI, FINLAND - MAY 19: Yevgeni Malkin of Russia celebrates after he scores his team's 3rd goal during the IIHF World Championship semi final match between Russia and Finland at Hartwall Arena on May 19, 2012 in Helsinki, Finland. (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The world's top hockey nation, Russia, and the definition of an underdog, Slovakia, will battle for the 2012 IIHF World Championship on Sunday afternoon.

It's rare that one simple graphic can symbolize a hockey game, let alone one simple glance at a map. But just take a peek at this map of Europe highlighting the two teams that will battle for the gold medal at the 2012 IIHF World Championship on Sunday afternoon.

You have Russia, the largest country in Europe and a dominant hockey nation, the top country in the IIHF's rankings, powered through this tournament so far by NHL superstar Evgeni Malkin. He leads all scorers in the tournament with 18 points in nine games, and he has both Pavel Datsyuk, Alex Semin and Alex Ovechkin on his team as well. The Russians are, plain and simple, a powerhouse.

The Slovaks have a nice collection of players -- Zdeno Chara leads the tournament's best non-Russian defensive unit, for example -- but outside of Chara, Michal Handzus, Andrej Sekera and Tomas Kopecky, they're lacking a lot of NHL talent. Slovakia hasn't won a medal at this tournament in nearly 10 years, and they haven't been beyond the preliminary round since 2007.

The Slovaks do have an angel on their side, however. Via the Canadian Press:

They're playing for Pavol Demitra, the long-time national team captain who was killed in the Lokomotiv air crash in September.

"We all know that we're not playing just for us," Zdeno Chara said after Saturday's emotional 3-1 win over the Czech Republic in the semifinals. "We're playing for our country and obviously with the tragedy that happened ... it's also for Pav."

These are both teams that were affected by the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl tragedy last fall, and that'll certainly be felt when they take the ice at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon in a battle for the 2012 IIHF World Championship.

You can catch the action on tape delay in the United States on NBC Sports Network at 9 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast live in Canada on TSN. For more on the 2012 IIHF World Championship, check in with Puck Worlds.

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