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Team Canada

Team Canada far from perfect but good enough

Wins Game 1 of World Cup final after lackluster start

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

TORONTO -- Does this mean Team Canada is vulnerable?

Or invincible?

Team Canada played its worst game of the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday. Team Europe played its best.

Yet Team Canada never trailed and won Game 1 of the best-of-3 final 3-1.

Video: EUR@CAN, Gm1: Marchand opens scoring on early break

Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger said his players were "very angry" and this would pull them together even more.

"There was quite a bit of time during the game where we were dictating the pace and dictating the game," Team Europe captain Anze Kopitar said. "So it certainly showed we can play with them, and that's what we've got to take away."

But Team Europe might have blown its best shot. It now must win back-to-back games against a team on a 15-game winning streak in best-on-best tournaments, and Team Canada now should adjust and sharpen its game with a chance to add a World Cup title to its gold medals at the 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Sochi Olympics.

"Obviously, we're fortunate that we still come out with the win tonight, even though we didn't play our best hockey, but we can't think that way," Team Canada defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We've got to think we've got to play our best hockey in order to win games. That's what we're going to do."

Game 2 is Thursday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, CBC, TVA, TVA Sports).

"For whatever reason, we weren't as good as we felt we were capable of being," Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said, "and so we'll fix that and we'll be better."

Maybe Team Canada overlooked Team Europe, a surprising underdog comprised of European players from outside the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden. Team Canada had won its first four games of the tournament by a combined score of 19-6, including a 4-1 victory against Team Europe in the preliminary round. It had outshot its opponents by 15 per game on average. It had outshot Team Europe in the previous game 46-20.

Maybe Team Europe was smart. It had played a patient game earlier in the tournament, relying on goaltender Jaroslav Halak and opportunistic scoring. It had been outshot by almost 10 per game on average. But Krueger said his players would play to win and not wait to win, and they came out aggressively from the first shift.

Team Canada took a 2-0 lead in the first period even though it was outshot 13-9, capitalizing on turnovers and scoring on the rush. That was supposed to be the formula for Team Europe. By the midpoint of the second, the lead was down to 2-1, and Team Canada still was being outshot, 23-17. Team Europe almost tied it when defenseman Andrej Sekera broke away shorthanded, but goaltender Carey Price, sharp all night, made the save.

"I thought that they were better than us for large stretches of the game," Babcock said.

Video: EUR@CAN, Gm1: Price robs Sekera on shorthanded break

Some of the credit goes to Team Europe. Defensively, it had good structure through the middle of the ice. Offensively, it put Team Canada on its heels.

But a lot of the blame goes to Team Canada. Players made uncharacteristic unforced errors, like veteran center Ryan Getzlaf, who turned over two pucks at the offensive blue line. He made a no-look drop pass near the end of the first period, expecting Steven Stamkos to be there.

"That's just us communicating a little bit better and me taking care of the puck at the line," Getzlaf said. "When you're talking at the end of the period … even if he is there, I don't necessarily have to make that play. The creativity and stuff is always going to be there, but we've got to take care of the puck, for sure."

The defensemen didn't keep their trademark tight gaps, backing up too much, allowing Team Europe into the zone. As a result, they had to defend more than usual, and they didn't get the puck going the other way as well as usual.

Team Canada started to turn it around at the end of the second. In the dressing room during the second intermission, the players spoke up, then Babcock came in and made some adjustments. They improved in the third, got an insurance goal and ended up outshooting Team Europe 38-33.

"We just knew we had to play better," Team Canada defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "That's execution. That's playing the system we want to play. Mentally, it just seemed like there were some breakdowns we haven't had in the tournament. So once we started to execute a bit better with the puck and structurally get to where we had to be, it started to get better for us.

"We've played, if not perfect, pretty well throughout this whole tournament. So we knew it was a matter of time before that switch flipped."

Video: EUR@CAN, Gm1: Bergeron pads the lead on Crosby's dish

Our expectations are so high for Team Canada. We like to call it a machine, but it is a group of human beings prone to human nature. These guys were expected to dominate an inferior opponent against which they had no history, and there was no passion in their game or in the arena, even though it was the World Cup final.

"You'd like things to be perfect every night," Babcock said, "but it's just not real."

But you wonder: If Team Europe couldn't win this one, can it win the next one, let alone the next two? It isn't realistic to expect Team Canada to be perfect every night; it isn't realistic to expect Team Canada to be this far from perfect again either.

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