TORONTO – Whatever Canada put into Tuesday night’s World Cup final opener against Team Europe, Canada got back. The Canucks were an overwhelming favorite to dominate the best-of-three series, they had the ability to dictate the play, and that worked for and against them in their 3-1 victory.
When Canada played with fire, it cruised. Its transition game was too much for coach Ralph Krueger’s underdog Euros in the first period. Patrice Bergeron broke up a power play chance and ended up off to the races, splitting the Europe defense before feeding linemate Brad Marchand for a tap-in just 2:33 into the game. Later in the period, Ryan Getzlaf replicated the play, stripping Zdeno Chara, faking a slapshot and feeding Steven Stamkos for one of the easiest goals he’ll ever score. Canada imposed its will and appeared ready for a cakewalk.
Then intensity or a lack thereof became a problem. Was it the mismatch on paper? Facing a nine-team hodgepodge instead of a distinct opponent? A lack of fuel from the sleepy, less-than-capacity crowd at the Air Canada Centre? Whatever the reason, Canada sat back in the second period. A beautiful stretch pass from Roman Josi to Anze Kopitar helped Europe gain the zone before Tomas Tatar finished off a scramble while Marian Hossa screened Canada goalie Carey Price at the seven-minute mark. The Canucks suddenly appeared disinterested and paid for it. Less than halfway through the game, Europe was on pace to blitz Price with 50 shots – an unheard-of total for Canada to allow in this modern era of smothering supremacy. Canada played the second like it was competing in a mildly spirited exhibition game.
In the third period, sensing a need for an injection of urgency, Sidney Crosby took Canada on his back, digging the puck out from behind Europe’s net, shrugging off Mark Streit like he was nothing and threading a perfect feed to Bergeron, who buried the puck past Halak. Canada resumed imposing its will and, voila, put the game out of reach.
On one hand, the Europeans should be encouraged by the fact they kept Game 1 close for most of the night. On the other hand, the Canadians seemed to alter the score whenever they really needed to. The series still looks lopsided entering Thursday’s Game 2.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin