HELSINKI, Finland -- The IIHF World Hockey Championship ended in agony once again for Canada.
"It's deja vu," general manager Kevin Lowe said after a 4-3 quarter-final loss to Slovakia on Thursday.
It's the first time in history Canada has made an early exit from the tournament on three straight occasions. The country also suffered quarter-final losses in 2010 and 2011.
This one was especially difficult to stomach since Canada was ahead of an overmatched Slovak team 3-2 with seven minutes to play. Then everything came unravelled.
First, captain Ryan Getzlaf's line got caught up ice when Milan Bartovic raced in and tied the game with a rebound off the rush at 13:25. Then, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was assessed a boarding penalty. Just as Canada killed that one off, Getzlaf was given a kneeing major for an open-ice hit on Juraj Mikus at 17:28.
Four seconds later, Michal Handzus tipped home the winning goal.
The Slovaks celebrated the victory like they'd won the Stanley Cup while the stunned Canadian players hung their heads.
"It hurts like hell right now," said Getzlaf. "I feel like I let the guys down. To be in a hard-fought game like that and play the tournament we did and lose in that fashion, it's not easy to swallow as a group.
"The guys worked way too hard to be delivered something like that."
Jan Laco made 33 saves while Tomas Kopecky and Miroslav Satan also scored goals for Slovakia (6-2-0).
Evander Kane, Jeff Skinner and Alex Burrows replied for Canada (6-1-1).
Even though Getzlaf thought his hit on Mikus was a clean check -- "I got a piece of him with my shoulder like I wanted to," he said -- coach Brent Sutter bemoaned the lack of discipline at a crucial point in the game.
"We let it get away on us," said Sutter.
The Slovaks, who lost 3-2 to Canada in the opening game of the round robin, will face the winner of the Sweden-Czech Republic quarter-final, which will be played later Thursday.
The Canadian players had come to this event determined to win gold -- not just for themselves, but also to improve the country's world ranking from fifth to secure a better ride at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. It was not to be.
International hockey hasn't been kind to the senior men's team since Sidney Crosby's golden goal in Vancouver, which was followed by three straight disappointments at the world championship.
"It's a tough feeling," said forward John Tavares. "It's still just starting to sink in really."
The Slovaks had a quick start. Gaining momentum after a Getzlaf penalty, Kopecky opened the scoring at 5:57 by skating hard to the goal and having Branko Radivojevic's shot deflect off his leg and past Cam Ward.
Satan soon made it 2-0, collecting a loose puck high in the zone and beating the screened Ward.
With Hartwall Arena buzzing in anticipation of a potential upset, Canada dug in. Getzlaf and Corey Perry delivered some good shifts and created the first goal, which came off the stick of Kane at 16:14.
That set the stage for a second period that ended up being Canada's best of the tournament.
"It was a small wonder we survived that period," said Slovak captain Zdeno Chara.
The puck stayed in his team's zone for almost the entire 20 minutes -- save for one dangerous-looking Slovak power play -- and Canada took a 3-2 lead. The Canadian players consistently went hard to the net and were rewarded for their efforts.
Skinner tied the game 2-2 at 6:30 on a power play, taking a pass from linemate Jordan Eberle shortly after he'd been denied on a breakaway by Laco. Burrows was standing at the top of the crease when the puck made its way to him and he put Canada ahead at 17:43.
However, the opportunistic Slovaks wouldn't go away. Now they're headed to the semifinals.
"Our boys didn't want to go home yet," said coach Vladimir Vujtek.
Notes: Canada rang three different shots off Laco's head in the second period ... Slovak captain Zdeno Chara played his first world championship since 2007 ... Announced attendance was 11,568.