Canada One Win Away From the World Cup, But Just Barely

Don’t let the Europeans hang around. That was the game plan for Team Canada. But, rather than take advantage of the dominant puck possession they had in the first period, the Canadians didn’t press for more and got sloppy. Bad turnovers and dropped passes allowed Team Europe to stay in the game. And credit to them, they had a lot of shots and a lot of pressure and deserved to be within a goal early in the second period. Canada was on their heels through much of the middle frame and lost all the pace they had early on. Europe believed they could win, and they played like it.

Team Europe Proved They Belong

Team Europe may have been billed as the underdog, but they didn’t play like it in game one. They weathered the early storm and didn’t panic even when they were down by two goals. They didn’t try to play run and gun with Canada. And fortunately for them, Canada was sleepwalking through a lot of the game and it played right into Europe’s hands. Considering the experience on the European team and the ability of Jaroslav Halak to shut things down, Canada was remiss to take a 2-0 lead for granted.

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

But again, Team Europe deserves a ton of credit. They earned a berth in the Final. Canada knew not to take them lightly, even when they won 4-1 in the round robin (without Carey Price). The Europeans did a good job of boxing out Canada’s forwards in front of Halak and limited their speed through the neutral zone. It’s clear they made adjustments after the first period. They played free and easy, knowing all of the pressure to win as squarely on Team Canada’s shoulders.

Did Europe’s style of play force Canada to change their game? Or were all of the turnovers a result of the Canadians not being sharp? Maybe a combination of both. In any case, Europe played very poised defensively and gave Canada all they could handle. Because of the best-of-three format, you can be sure that Europe is heading into game two with a boatload of confidence that they could win.

Canada’s Best Line Carried Them to Victory

The line of Sidney Crosby, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron has been about as outstanding as you could get in a tournament such as this. Crosby, for some reason pegged to be “hard to play with”, always finds himself with a merry-go-round of linemates as his coaches search for chemistry. But right off the bat, that line clicked and they were essentially unstoppable. Every shift they had some kind of scoring chance and looked so dangerous every time they stepped onto the ice. Crosby didn’t get a ton of points in the last two Olympic Games but he’s been a man on a mission in this World Cup.

Perhaps he’s still riding high from his Stanley Cup Championship. Whatever the reason, Crosby was on top of his game, and his linemates followed suit. The super-line was responsible for the opening goal, and the insurance marker in the third period, one that saw Canada play slightly better than they did in the middle frame. Mike Babcock seemed to lose his line matchups in the second period, which makes you wonder what will happen in game two when Europe has the last change. The Europeans not only kept up in this game but put a scare into all Canadian hearts.

Steven Stamkos finally broke the goose-egg, scoring the game-winner, which is a positive sign as Canada will certainly need all hands on deck in game two. Despite the many nerve-wracking moments, Canada prevailed, though I really hope they make some adjustments during the off day. There were far too many giveaways and careless passes, and if you give Europe enough chances, they’re going to eventually capitalize. Missing a guy like Marian Gaborik definitely hurts their offensive attack, but Canada still gave away too many odd-man rushes.

Is Round Two Anyone’s Game?

Despite a strong first period, you got the sense that Canada didn’t have the upper hand as much as everyone expected. They had to work very hard, and maybe they didn’t expect that. It felt like Canada leaned on their talent, while the Europeans were able to channel all their pride and motivation to give themselves a chance to win. The third period was better by Canadian standards. They didn’t panic, despite the scoreline, and found a way to get the job done. Price held the fort, and Crosby’s line did the rest.

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

But the mission is far from being accomplished. Europe didn’t just “hang in there”. They fought hard, they were patient and the game could have easily been tied heading into the final period. In the words of Don Cherry, Canada was “dopey from the start”, and that was a valid assessment. He believes they’ll be better in game two, and I agree. Captain Crosby said it best after the game: “they forced us to make mistakes”. The difference in this Final may just be a guy like Crosby because Europe simply doesn’t have a game-breaker like him.

The key for Canada in game two is for them to play up their level. They have to limit the turnovers and they have to keep the pace high. Europe wants to play a close, slow game. They want to clog up the neutral zone and try to force Canada to cough up the puck. There were moments where their plan worked (Kopitar said it was their best game thus far). I don’t see another performance like this from Canada in game two. I think they’ll lock it down. But Europe has put doubt in everyone’s minds and proved they’re worthy. Can they get this Final to a tiebreaker on Saturday? That remains to be seen.

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