Must-win game against Canada could determine U.S. legacy

Canada versus Team USA, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

United States: It is painfully simple for Team USA: Win, and its hope of advancing in the World Cup of Hockey lives for another day or two. Lose in any fashion to powerful Canada, and Thursday’s preliminary-round game against the Czech Republic will be meaningless, a painful reminder of the failure of this team to come together in any fashion when it mattered most. Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers likened the situation to a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

For some of these players the faceoff against their historic rivals to the north may be the last chance internationally to establish a meaningful legacy in the face of a new generation of talented young American players — several of whom are playing in this tournament for Team North America. Already dogged by skepticism about the makeup of their team, the U.S. players must now confront a Canadian squad that has won the past two Olympic gold medals and is a heavy favorite to win this tournament for a second consecutive time, dating back to 2004. Although the Americans did split two pre-tournament games with Canada, they will have to exponentially ramp up their intensity after a curiously dispassionate 3-0 loss to Team Europe on Saturday, but they must do so without losing their cool, which may be difficult given the stakes.

“It’s a great spot for the Americans to be in, that type of situation, in that type of atmosphere,” Team USA head coach John Tortorella insisted. “If you can’t get motivated to do your best in this type of situation, with the environment that’s going to be there Tuesday night, there’s something the matter with you. Then we’ve got the wrong guy. But I don’t think we’ve got the wrong guys.”

One game into this highly anticipated tournament, the evidence suggests otherwise. But that’s the beauty of what awaits this American team: a chance, in the space of 60 minutes on Tuesday night, to rewrite the story of this tournament and maybe their own legacy. — Scott Burnside

Canada: His team’s 6-0 opening win over the Czech Republic was pretty darn impressive, but not perfect, said Canada head coach Mike Babcock on Monday. He knows that his players can still pick things up a notch. “For sure another level,” he said. “They had five looks at our net in the first six minutes. Four of them were on specialty teams, and one was on the line change. So we’ve got to fix that up, for sure. Other than that, I thought we played well; we played with some pace. We didn’t have pace early in the exhibition, but we’re starting to get a little more comfortable.”

The question is whether Team Canada can manufacture the same kind of desperation level that Team USA will naturally have on Tuesday in a do-or-die situation. The natural rivalry that exists between both teams, on display in two meaningless-yet-feisty pre-tournament games, should ensure Canada’s emotional investment. After all, you know that the Canadians would relish that chance to inflict the knockout punch to their rivals, even if they insist that’s not their focus.

“[We’re] just playing our game,” veteran center Ryan Getzlaf said. “We’re trying to build something here. I think we have to make this whole focus about us and not really buy into the whole do-or-die thing for them. It’s a matter of us just going out and playing our game and continuing to get better throughout this tournament.”

Look for Team Canada to try to create turnovers in the U.S. zone with an aggressive forecheck, as tight, five-man units give Team USA’s blueliners little room for transition. It’s what worked so well against the Czechs in the opener. There were no lineup changes for Canada at practice on Tuesday, which likely means that Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux will sit out again. The forward lines and defense pairings were also the same, meaning the U.S. has to brace for that Brad MarchandSidney CrosbyPatrice Bergeron unit, which brought the Czechs to their knees in the opener. — Pierre LeBrun

Finland versus Sweden, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Finland: North America, the team loaded with talented players 23-and-younger, completely dismantled Finland 4-1 in its first World Cup game on Sunday. Meanwhile, Sweden defeated Russia 2-1. Finland needs to muster a major response against the Swedes on Tuesday. Both teams practiced on Monday, but the Finns worked on every aspect of their game in an attempts to figure out why they’re playing so poorly. The biggest issue for Finland to fix is its compete level. It was not there against the kids on Sunday, and now that its biggest rival is on deck, Finland needs to play a 200-foot game. Defensively, the Finns were brutal in front of their own net, so that was a point of emphasis during practice. Finland’s defensive-zone coverage needs to improve, especially against a potent Swedish offense.

Sweden: For the Swedes, it’s much of the same. Their depth was key against Russia. Sweden has the ability to roll all four lines, and its defensive core stifled Russia’s dangerous attack. Sweden was able to exploit Russia’s weak defense. In order to have success against Finland, it has to follow the same game plan.

Line watch: This game won’t be won by one single line or power-play unit. It will come down to goaltending. Both teams were in a bit of a pickle after Monday’s practices because of their respective goaltending situations. Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist missed Sunday’s game with the flu. He participated in the team’s full practice and showed no ill effects on Monday. While Lundqvist was optimistic after practice about his chances to play against Finland, it was a bit strange when he reiterated numerous times that it would be a coach’s decision. It’s possible that this could be Lundqvist’s final tournament for Sweden’s national team, so if he’s healthy I can’t imagine a scenario in which he wouldn’t play against Finland. At the other end of the ice, it’s unclear whether Finland will stick with Pekka Rinne or switch and go with Tuukka Rask. During practice, it appeared Rask would be the starter. — Joe McDonald

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