They haven’t scored first in a game and have consistently taken too many penalties, yet they have five straight wins heading into their final preliminary round game against the U.S. on Monday (12:15 p.m. ET).
Eric Staal kept the winning streak alive Sunday by scoring his second goal of the night early in overtime to give Canada a 4-3 win over the Czech Republic. It was the only time the Canadians led in the game.
Monday’s game against the Americans will be the last one Canada can afford to lose if it wants to come home with a gold medal. Coach Andy Murray is hoping the team can take its game to another level for that final tuneup.
“I think we’ve yet to tap our full potential and we’d like to see that against the U.S,” said Murray.
The U.S. has just one loss in the tournament and has been the most consistent team in the pool the Canadians are playing in, according to Murray.
A win against them is important because it sets up a quarter-final game against Switzerland, which has struggled at this year’s tournament. If Canada loses to the Americans, it will face Finland in the quarters.
They’ll enter with some confidence after erasing three one-goal deficits against the Czechs before Staal scored in overtime on Sunday. The Canadian forward was planted in front and shovelled a rebound over goalie Marek Pinc, who had entered the game just 23 seconds before at the end of regulation.
“A goal’s a goal in overtime and we’ll take the points,” said Staal, who has scored three times in five games. “It’s pretty bad for the goalie. He just jumped in and hadn’t played a sniff of the whole tournament.”
The Czechs needed one point to squeak into the quarter-finals and starting goalie Roman Cechmanek was so tired after they had secured it that he removed himself before the overtime period.
Had Canada been able to win in regulation, the Czechs would have needed help to advance. It was a chance to put them on life support. The Czech Republic is 11-5 against Canada all-time at this event.
“You never want to give the Czechs a second life,” said Canadian captain Shane Doan. “We kind of did tonight.”
Ultimately, it shouldn’t matter if Canada can cure some its ills heading into the final round. They gave the Czechs eight power plays and all three goals against came while Canada was killing a penalty.
They’ve got to play more disciplined.
“We’ve got to figure out quick how we can play and how we can play within the boundaries of the refereeing here,” said forward Jay McClement. “We can’t complain about it.
“Some are penalties, some aren’t, in our opinion. We’ve got to figure out what we can and can’t do.”
It’s something Murray has been preaching.
“We’ve got so many young players,” said the veteran coach. “Some of the penalties that they call here are marginal, but they’re penalties. We’ve got to be a lot smarter.
“You can’t hit someone and follow through with your hands.”
McClement and Doan added goals for Canada.
Rostislav Olesz, Marek Zdlicky and Tomas Plekanec replied for the Czech Republic.
The game started in familiar fashion for Canada, which allowed the first goal for the fifth straight time. Zdlicky wired a slapshot from the point that eluded two Canadian penalty killers and a screened Roloson at 13:17 of the first period.
It was the only puck that would beat the Canadian goalie during an excellent opening 20 minutes. Roloson looked sharp and stopped 17 shots in the period.
“In the first period they had us under pressure, under siege,” said Murray. “And he did a great job.
“Our goaltending here is going to be key as we go along.”
Canada got a break to draw even. With fans whistling in the seats at Mytischi Arena, Cechmanek and a few others appeared to think the play had been stopped.
McClement wasn’t sure and wisely spun in the slot and fired the puck past the confused Czech goalie at 2:15 of the second period.
“It was kind of a bizarre goal,” said McClement. “I wasn’t sure if the whistle went so I just fired anyway . . .
“Everybody kind of woke up after it was too late.”
The public address announcer then twice warned fans not to whistle.
Plekanec’s fourth of the tournament gave the Czechs a 2-1 lead before Staal tied the game early in the third period. Olesz made it 3-2 and then Doan scored at 10:57 of the third. Canada kept clawing back.
“We were chasing them from behind the whole night,” said Doan.
Even though it hasn’t played perfect hockey, Canada hasn’t been stealing wins either. It has outchanced the opposition in every game and has done everything necessary to come out on top.
The pattern has fit nicely with Murray’s adopted mantra of “Digging in for Canada.”
The coach is happy his players are responding to that message but would like to see them make things just a little bit easier.
“I’d just as soon not use that theme every single night,” said Murray.