TORONTO -- After the end of a normal NHL playoff series or perhaps a nation vs. nation event like the World Championships, players go their different ways but many know they'll be back together again in a few months or at some time in the future for the next international competition.
Team Europe is in a different position Thursday night in the World Cup of Hockey. A loss to Team Canada in Game Two of the best-of-three final (8 p.m., ESPN2) would end the series -- and could send this conglomerate of nations into extinction.
"It's a little bit of a weird feeling," Team Europe captain Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings acknowledged after today's morning skate in the Air Canada Centre. "But we've said all along we're living in the moment right now and not living too far ahead."
There's plenty of speculation this will be the first and only time a Team Europe will be used in the World Cup, but this veteran group has acquitted itself very well, with wins over the United States and Sweden its top performances in the tournament.
"Today we're speaking about getting better as a team again," said coach Ralph Krueger. "It's not just lip service for us. It's truly been our mantra to keep the picture small and focus on whatever the next challenge is. There is a really nice bite and a nice edge and intensity in the group through these two days."
Canada won Game One of the final, 3-1, on Tuesday as Team Europe was within a goal with 12 minutes left and was outshot by just 38-33. It was hardly the domination people might have expected but that also means it was quite a lost opportunity for the upstarts.
"Game One of a short series is important and we played good. But against them, good is not good," said former Sabres winger Thomas Vanek. "You have to be perfect. We made a few mistakes. You make them against that team, you'll lose.
"We're being realistic. We're happy how we played the game and obviously not with the loss. We know they'll be a lot better. We tweaked a few things and we'll give it our best shot."
Canada's Sidney Crosby leads the tournament with nine points and combined with linemates Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron for two of the three goals Tuesday. Kopiter and Mats Zuccarello lead Team Eurpoe with four points apiece.
Prior to Tuesday's final, Vanek raised some eyebrows when he said "it's impossible" about Team Europe's chances of winning twice. Vanek wasn't going that far Thursday given how well Team Europe played in stretches of the opener.
"There's no fear of Canada," Vanek said. "We all know they're the best team in the world. but at the end of the day, we know if we execute our game plan, we just need to bury our chances. ... We didn't give up a whole lot against them but a couple mistakes and they score on them. And Crosby's line was the difference.
'The mood is good. No one expected us to be here. From day one, we believed in ourselves and here we are. We played good last game but it's Canada. Give them a few chances and they'll score. Their best line was their best line and that was the difference."