Canada wasn't the dominant team for a change but managed to pull out a late third-period comeback and clinch the World Cup on a shorthanded goal by Marchand.
TORONTO – The greatest hockey nation on Earth won 15 straight games of best-on-best hockey by playing almost flawlessly. For win No. 16, though, Canada finally did things differently. It won ugly.
Canada was the inferior team for about 57 minutes against the plucky Europeans in Game 2 of the World Cup final but found a way to create magic when it really mattered. It survived with a 1-0 deficit thanks to an urgent, meaningful performance from Carey Price and stopped hearts at the Air Canada Centre with a third-period blitz that included a power play goal and, with less than a minute to go, a shorthanded goal from Brad Marchand which stood up as the game winner. The Euros didn’t know what hit them. They had Canada on the ropes, but when 60 minutes ran off the clock, they’d lost 2-1. Canada repeated as World Cup champion.
Game 2 started much like Game 1 did – with the Euros the aggressor. Only this time, Canada didn’t calmly flick a switch and quell the uprising. Instead of rallying after what they admitted was their weakest effort of the tournament, they came out even emptier Thursday night. It took them six minutes to record their first shot on goal. At 6:26 of the first, European blueliner Zdeno Chara streaked in at the top of the left faceoff circle and rifled a perfect wrister into the far top corner past Price’s glove. The puck bounced out, looking like it hit the crossbar, but it was a legitimate goal.
Typically, Canada had been almost godlike during this tournament in its ability to answer after any hint of adversity was tossed at its feet. The Canadians trailed against the U.S. for 1:29 in the round-robin and against Russia for 1:12 in the semifinal. But the answer just wasn’t there for two periods in Game 2 against Europe.
Part of it was Canada’s fault. It played an uncharacteristically sloppy game. We saw some of the sport’s most fundamentally sound players – Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan Getzlaf, even Sidney Crosby – attempt lazy home run passes and cause turnover after turnover, granting the Euros multiple odd-man rushes. Aside from a glorious chance for John Tavares early in the second, in which he hit the post from point-blank range with a wide-open cage, Canada struggled to generate 10-bell scoring chances.
And as much as Canada might’ve want to shoulder the blame on itself, Ralph Krueger’s Team Europe earned the lead after two periods. Nothing about Thursday’s performance was fluky. The forwards, led by two-way maven Anze Kopitar, were dogged all night long, harassing the Canadian puck-carriers, forcing them into rash decisions.
"They've got a good team," said Canada coach Mike Babcock. "You put a whole bunch of countries together, Kopitar is a good player and Roman Josi is a good player…the perception is that we're miles better than everyone else. I think our country is deeper, but you only get to play five guys at a time. I thought they did a real nice job. I thought they made it tight. They worked hard. They believed in what they were doing. To me that's what hockey is about.
It’s been 15 games since we could say it, but the Canadians were outplayed. They weren’t the better team. And Price actually had to be The Man for them, something Canada hasn’t needed him to do often in best-on-best competition. The Euros tested him with 33 shots, and he remained his usual icy-cool self, particularly sharp making pad saves on low shots.
And that effort gave Canada the base it needed for a proper late push. In the second half of the third period, the ice finally tilted. Jaroslav Halak robbed Crosby in alone after Marchand sprung him with a feed into the slot. But Kopitar of all people took a holding penalty with just 3:35 remaining. Canada had the opening it needed. Brent Burns one-timed a Crosby feed and Patrice Bergeron deftly tipped it past Halak, tying the game 1-1 and eliciting the type of roar we hadn’t felt from the fans at the World Cup throughout Canada’s games. The stakes had finally been raised, and this goal finally felt like it meant something.
Drew Doughty took a potentially deadly high-sticking penalty with 1:50 to go, and the Euros got the golden opportunity with Marian Hossa all alone five feet from Price, but he denied Hossa.
"When he made that save, that kind of brought it to another level," Marchand said. "And we feed off of that energy, there's no question about that. You could tell the boys were confident, and you definitely want to help him out when he makes a save like that. You've got to play your part, too, and fortunately we were able to return the favor."
They sure were. On a 2-on-2 rush shorthanded, Jonathan Toews threaded a feed to Marchand…and Marchand couldn’t have placed the shot better. It was a laser to the top corner, Halak's blocker side, over the diving Josi, the perfect shot at the most opportune moment.
"So you're thinking, 'All right, let's just get this to overtime, see what we can do,' and 'Marchy' comes in with a big goal, an unexpected one but much needed," Crosby said. "A real change of emotions there pretty quickly, but it made it exciting and definitely special."
Marchand's dagger ended a Cinderella run for Europe, a team that drastically defied prognosticators' expectations. Even though the series ended in a 2-0 sweep, it was highly competitive, and Krueger was pleased.
"When you see the minutes on some of the guys, and you see the effort of players that reached for their potential all the way through the game, it's extremely painful to see the final result," Krueger said. "But I feel nothing but pride in the way this group performed today, the challenge they put up against Canada. This group just continued to surprise and beat the odds and beat the thoughts of everybody that was watching."
Canada was its old, clutch, unstoppable self for just a five-minute window, and that was enough. Price was the MVP of Game 2, but Crosby, who led the tournament with 10 points in six games, earned overall MVP honors. He became the third player ever with a Hart Trophy, a Conn Smythe Trophy and a Canada Cup/World Cup MVP. The other two: Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky. Sounds about right.
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