TORONTO — Team Canada might have been staring at unlikely hole in the World Cup of Hockey final were it not for Carey Price and Sidney Crosby.
Instead, the Canadians will look to pull out a second straight World Cup crown with their 16th straight victory in the best-on-best format on Thursday night. Price made 33 saves and Crosby rung up two more points in leading Canada to an unsatisfying 3-1 win over Europe in Game 1 of the final two nights earlier.
"The way Sid’s line is playing, the way Price is playing, you can have an off-game and still find a way to win a game," Jonathan Toews said ahead of Game 2 of the best-of-three final. "But obviously in a series like this to close it out it’s going to take much more than that. I think that the pride factor is going to kick in knowing that obviously we want to win."
Uncharacteristically sloppy on Tuesday night, the Canadians were largely outplayed by the Europeans, displaying little of the dominance now expected of a squad that hasn’t lost a best-on-best game since the preliminary round of the 2010 Olympics.
It was Europe that grabbed the first chance and power play as well as the bulk of shots. It was the Europeans that muscled their way into the offensive zone and hung around there for long stints. A Canadian team that rolled through its first four opponents was suddenly being outplayed by a team with vastly inferior talent.
Canada showed up at the Air Canada Centre the next morning and reviewed the good and bad of a night that still produced a much-needed win. It wasn’t one of the better meetings, Ryan O’Reilly said afterward.
"I think when you’re a good team and you’re a proud group of guys and you know how you want to play and the standard you’ve set for yourself you just want to achieve that," head coach Mike Babcock said.
Babcock said his team just wasn’t as sharp as usual in the opener of the final. They turned pucks over with alarming regularity and failed to transition cleanly out of the defensive zone. And though they peppered Jaroslav Halak with 38 shots, the Canadians were more often than not a one-and-done offence.
Shots were 32-31 for Canada at even strength. Europe’s top line of Tomas Tatar, Anze Kopitar, and Marian Hossa combined for seven shots and scored a goal.
"I think you’ve got to give their team and their coaching staff and their group a lot of credit, I thought they did a real good job," Babcock said of the Europeans, coached by former Team Canada staff member and one-time Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger. "We can’t control what they do totally, (but) we can control what we do. We thought what we did, we could be better and we want to be better (Thursday)."
Toews thought more energy and emotion might help. Canada will also look to clean up its play with the puck and return to a "heavy", puck-hogging style in the offensive zone.
Boasting a large talent advantage, Canada still had more than enough to put away the Europeans in the opener, coming on strong especially in the final period. Expectations have risen so high for this collection, much of it the same since 2010, that even a slight slip over two periods causes a shudder among players and coaches.
They know more is expected that way.
So dominant at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, this Canadian squad has merely been good, its talent often just too much for weaker opponents from the Czech Republic, United States, Russia and Europe. Tuesday’s first period was indicative of that. The Europeans were the better team, but it was Canada who struck for a pair of goals and 2-0 lead.
"I really feel we haven’t had a full consistent game throughout," O’Reilly said. "We have found ways to win games and that’s definitely a positive, but at the same time we want to be perfect out there. We know we’re not, but every shift we’ve got to expect greatness from each other. We all feel that. Every time we put on that Canadian jersey it’s an expectation and a pressure that definitely we want and want to be apart of."