It’s a game that has been two years in the making. Since Team Canada shut out Team USA in the 2014 Sochi semifinals, ending USA’s bid for a gold or silver medal, the Americans have been champing at the bit to face off with their northern neighbors again.
However, it’s a dire situation for the Americans, as a loss would certainly spell the end of their tournament lives only two games in. For Canada, it’s a chance to guarantee one of the top two spots in Group A.
Here’s what you need to know and what to watch out for in tonight’s highly anticipated tilt:
When: Tonight, 8 ET
Where: Air Canada Centre — Toronto, Ontario
How to Watch: US viewers — ESPN (TV); ESPN3.com, WatchESPN app (live stream)
Canadian viewers — SportsNet, TVA Sports (TV)
It’s Do or Die for Team USA
The Canadians have handed their USA counterparts defeat in the past two Winter Games. First, it was the memorable gold medal game in 2010 when Sidney Crosby scored the overtime game winner. Then, it was goaltender Carey Price’s brilliant 1-0 performance in the 2014 semifinals. This time, Canada could oust Team USA even before the playoff format begins.
Team USA didn’t help their case in their opening game against Team Europe. A 3-0 blanking by Jaroslav Halak and the Europeans put the Americans on the ropes right as the tournament began. The Canadians made it a little more grim for the Americans, as they sailed past Team Czech Republic, 6-0, in their opener.
Team Europe continued hammering nails onto Team USA’s coffin on Monday, defeating Czech Republic, 2-1, in overtime. This means that Europe has two wins, and a Canadian win over the U.S. means the top two teams in Group A will have been determined (the top two teams from each group advance to the semifinal round). This would leave a meaningless game on Thursday between the two winless teams, Czech Republic and the United States.
However, if the U.S. can defeat Canada, they will have a chance at advancing if Canada then loses to Team Europe in their final game of preliminary play.
A lot has to happen for the Americans to advance, but it all begins with the only thing they can control: defeating the powerhouse Canadians.
When Will the Goals Come?
The Americans are currently riding a nine-period scoring drought, dating back to the 2014 Sochi Games. Their last goal came from Phil Kessel, who was not selected for the World Cup team, in the third period of a 5-1 quarterfinal win against the Czech Republic.
Total time: 197:59.
Although Team USA mustered 35 shots on Halak in the tournament opener, he wasn’t tested enough for a team that includes the likes of Patrick Kane, Joe Pavelski and Blake Wheeler.
Carey Price Is on His Game
There were question marks surrounding Team Canada starting netminder Carey Price heading into the World Cup. After missing all but 12 games of the 2015-16 season, Price looks to have erased those uncertainties after blanking the Czech Republic in the opener, adding to his miraculous international shutout streak.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) September 18, 2016
Granted, the Montreal Canadiens’ starter is playing on a prolific squad, but it shouldn’t take away from the fact that any bugs in Price’s system were worked out in the offseason.
Watch out for Marchand-Crosby-Bergeron
Through one game, the best line in the tournament has been the combination of Brad Marchand, Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron.
Against Team Czech Republic, the line was flying up and down the ice (although they didn’t leave the offensive zone much). The trio combined for three goals and seven points, with each player tallying a goal of his own.
The three seem to have exceptional chemistry, which is somewhat surprising given only two of them play on the same team in the NHL (Marchand, Bergeron; Boston Bruins). However, inserting Crosby between any scoring pair will always equate to positive results.
Physical Play Could Return
In both teams’ exhibition opener, a 4-2 U.S. win, the heated rivalry between the two countries was on full display. After a skirmish in the first period saw Brandon Dubinksy (USA), Marchand and Shea Weber (Canada) end up in the box with roughing penalties, the game reached a boiling point at 17:05 of the second period when U.S. forward Ryan Kesler boarded Weber, resulting in Jonathan Toews dropping his mitts and wrestling Kesler to the ground. Kesler was assessed a boarding major and a game misconduct, while Toews and Weber received roughing calls.
Although there was nothing out of the ordinary in the team’s exhibition rematch, a 5-2 Canada win, it doesn’t mean everything is settled between the two clubs.
The U.S. roster was designed in a way to defeat Canada; they include big bodies and tough defenders who can intimidate opponents. U.S. head coach John Tortorella will likely be leaning on his large defenders (like Dustin Byfuglien, who was a healthy scratch against Team Europe), to push Canadian forwards to the corners and battle with them along the boards.
The Canadians, though, are no slouches when it comes to physical play. Corey Perry is as scrappy as they come, while defender Weber is as aggressive as anyone on the rink. The roster is also made up of skilled forwards who are tremendous in stature, including Ryan Getzlaf (6-foot-4) and Joe Thornton (6-foot-4).
This makes Canada a threat on the scoreboard, as well as during physical play.
No matter the victor, we are in for an excellent night of hockey.
Feature photo courtesy s.yume | Flickr
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