TORONTO -- Before the semifinals of the World Cup of Hockey 2016, Team Canada coach Mike Babcock seemed excited for a test. His players had won their three preliminary-round games by a combined score of 14-3. They were about to face Team Russia, a team with elite scorers and an elite goaltender, in a single-elimination scenario.
"Everybody likes to be in the 50-50 situation when you're good at what you do, because that's where the fun's at, because that's where the anxiety is," Babcock said. "That's why you're in the game. If it's an 80-20 thing, that's boring."
Now here he was 16:24 into the second period at Air Canada Centre on Saturday, and Evgeny Kuznetsov had swatted a puck out of midair and into the net to give Team Russia a one-goal lead, and Sergei Bobrovsky was stopping shot after shot.
Was he having fun yet? Was he feeling the anxiety? Did he think he was in for a surprise?
"Not really," Babcock said.
Sure enough, Brad Marchand banged in a sweet feed from Sidney Crosby 1:12 later to tie the game. Team Canada took over in the third period and won 5-3, advancing to the best-of-3 final against Team Europe or Team Sweden.
Video: RUS@CAN: Marchand buries Crosby's pass in front
Even though Team Canada trailed, even though Bobrovsky was brilliant, even though anything can happen in a single-elimination scenario in hockey, it didn't feel like a 50-50 situation. When Kuznetsov scored that goal, Team Canada led in shots 30-12. It had been dominant. The players basically shrugged.
"It's hockey," Team Canada forward Corey Perry said. "It happens, and you put that aside and you go out and keep pushing. I mean, I think we did a lot of right things, and they got a couple bounces tonight. We never get frustrated."
Why would they?
Babcock led Canada to gold medals at the 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Sochi Olympics. Eight members of this team played for him in Vancouver; 13 played for him in Sochi. Babcock has long taught his players how to handle tight games, and the core players have set the example for the newcomers, and the talent is always overwhelming. Success and belief have snowballed into more success and belief.
In Vancouver, they gave up a goal late in regulation of the gold-medal game against the United States, and they won in overtime. In Sochi, they were locked in a 1-1 tie with Latvia in the quarterfinals, the goaltender making save after save, and they won. In the preliminary round of this tournament, they gave up the first goal to Team USA and quickly took the lead with two goals in 14 seconds.
"These kids now aren't kids anymore," Babcock said. "I trust them, and I think they trust me. They know we're prepared. They know we're good. They know we have a chance, and that's all you can ask [for] in life is a chance."
Video: RUS@CAN: Marchand nets second goal of the game
This time Marchand scored to tie it, and when the Team Canada players went into the dressing room, it was "pretty calm," according to defenseman Shea Weber. Babcock told his players they were wearing on Team Russia's defensemen and would get to them. He told them they were doing things right, and when you do good things, good things happen.
"Everyone in the room has been through situations like this before," Marchand said. "They're comfortable. Whether it's saying something or not saying something, I think everyone's really able to focus and control their own game, control how hard they're going to work, and I think that's what you continue to see in our room and our team.
"They knew how big it was going into that third period and having a big period. Sometimes you don't need to say anything."
Marchand gave Team Canada a 3-2 lead 1:16 into the third. Perry made it 4-2 at 5:48. John Tavares made it 5-2 at 9:22. It wasn't until the final seconds that Artemi Panarin cut it to 5-3, so it wasn't even like Team Canada had to protect a two-goal lead late in the third.
What, Team Canada worry?
Come to think of it: What would make Team Canada worry?
"I don't know," Team Canada defenseman Drew Doughty said, thinking for a moment. "With this team, I'm very, very rarely nervous. I have confidence in every single player on our team that they're going to get the job done, and every single time I put on this jersey I have confidence that we're going to win the game. So I guess the only way we're nervous is if we're down a couple goals in the last couple minutes. That's about it."
So much for the anxiety. This was the best chance to upset Team Canada, because it was single elimination. It's hard enough to defeat Team Canada once, let alone twice in three games as Team Europe or Team Sweden will try to do in the final. It's hard enough just to make these guys sweat. Team Canada has trailed for a grand total of 2:41 of this tournament - and 2:41 of its 14-game winning streak in best-on-best competition.
It's an 80-20 thing, if that.
Video: RUS@CAN: Marchand discusses Canada's 5-3 win