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Canadian pairs finish second in free skate, but Russia leads by 6 in team event

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Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir perform their short dance in the ice dance portion of the team figure skating event at the Sochi Winter Olympics Saturday, February 8, 2014 in Sochi. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

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Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir perform their short dance in the ice dance portion of the team figure skating event at the Sochi Winter Olympics Saturday, February 8, 2014 in Sochi. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

SOCHI, Russia - Scott Moir compared it to a Canada-Russia hockey game. Dylan Moscovitch said he felt like he was competing in a speedskating race.

Canada looks poised to win a medal in the first-ever team figure skating event at the Sochi Olympics, but the Russians — and their noisy fans who chanted and hollered all night long — are doing their best to make sure it won't be gold.

"I don't know about you guys, but it felt to me like I was at a hockey game a little bit, like I was watching the '72 Summit Series in warmup when they were cheering 'Russia! Russia!'" Moir said, laughing. "Growing up as a hockey player, I felt like I was ready to go."

Russia took an almost insurmountable six-point lead over Canada after five events after winning the pairs free skate in front of a rocking mostly-Russian crowd at the 12,000-seat Iceberg Skating Palace.

Kirsten Moore-Towers of St. Catharines, Ont., and Toronto's Dylan Moscovitch earned nine points for Canada with a second-place finish in the pairs long program.

"We were told an Olympic crowd is going to be much different from a figure skating crowd and the people who told us definitely weren't wrong, but it's a cool experience," Moore-Towers said.

"It's different standing at the starting position and people are still yelling and making noise," Moscovitch added. "It felt almost like I was in a speedskating race.

"But it was fun, it was good focus practice, that's for sure."

Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov finished first in pairs, giving Russia 47 out of a possible 50 points.

Canada has 41 points and the United States 34 heading into the final three events, the long programs for men's and women's singles and ice dance Sunday.

Earlier in the night, Moir and partner Tessa Virtue of London, Ont., finished second in the ice dance short program, then Kaetlyn Osmond, an 18-year-old Marystown, N.L., was fifth in the women's singles short program. That put Canada five points behind the Russians heading into the pairs free skate.

Virtue and Moir's American rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White finished first with 75.98 points while Russians Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev were third.

Fifteen-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia won the women's, dazzling the fans with a near-perfect routine.

The deafening crowd, waving the red, white and blue of Russia, chanted "Rus-si-a! Rus-si-a!" whenever a Russian skater took the ice — even during warmups. They chanted and stomped their feet when Stolbova and Klimov came on the ice and Canada's pairs skaters were still sitting in the kiss and cry waiting for their scores.

"We made up our own little chants to go with the syllables," said Moscovitch.

"Can-a-da!" said Moore Towers.

And "M-T-M," added Moscovitch. "For Moore-Towers and Moscovitch."

Virtue and Moir also tried to harness the Russian energy in the building.

"We were sort of embracing the electricity following the Russians, which is neat for them to be able to experience especially after living through that in Vancouver," Virtue said. "It's so special and we were sort of using that energy to benefit us."

While the Canadian skaters have all raved about the fun atmosphere of the team event, which is making its Olympic debut in Sochi, it's also perhaps a chance for Canada's top skaters to shake off some Olympic-sized jitters.

Moir, the skating team's captain from Ilderton, Ont., said he felt they'd let the squad down a little with their less-than-perfect performance. Virtue lost her balance slightly going into their twizzles — side-by-side travelling spins — putting them out of sync.

"Of course the twizzle wasn't ideal, had to recover after that one," Virtue said, to which Moir added: "Which isn't the easiest thing to do so early in program. It maybe drained us of a little bit of energy."

Three-time world champion Patrick Chan finished a surprising third to Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu and Russian veteran Evgeni Plushenko in Thursday's night men's short program. Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., is expected to replace Chan in the long program so Chan can focus on next week's individual event.

Moore-Towers and Moscovitch subbed in Saturday for Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford who skated a strong pairs short program Thursday night.

The new made-for-TV team event has the skaters seated in teams behind one end of the boards. The entire team congregates in the kiss and cry each time a squad member is awaiting results.

The Canadians wrapped Osmond in a massive group hug when she arrived at the kiss and cry.

"Actually the bench (in the kiss and cry) almost tipped over so that would have been really funny," Osmond said. "I absolutely love it.

"It's so much fun, and to have people in the kiss and cry with us afterwards, it's so special, it feels so much better. And to be part of a strong team and knowing that we have such good potential, it feels great to be a part of it."

Osmond had a strong skate in her first Olympic appearance, landing her opening triple-triple combination before completing a clean triple flip and double Axel.

The teenager's coach gave her simple instructions before she took the ice.

"Just have fun," Osmond said. "Normally we have something to say before but we felt so prepared, but we felt so prepared.

"This time we just knew to have fun with it and I was ready."

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