TORONTO – For 57 minutes, the Team Canada coronation was a flop.
But those last three minutes? Rate them as another incredible chapter on the ice here in the Great White North.
There’s plenty to say about the World Cup of Hockey, both pro and con. Team North America was historic for its wonder, Team USA historic for its flop. As for the host nation, this wasn’t the epochal 1972 Canada-Soviets Summit Series or the ‘76 or ‘87 Canada Cups. Not close.
But it managed to provide a finish that will be replayed in these parts for many a year.
Upstart Team Europe was that close to protecting a 1-0 lead and getting the World Cup final to a decisive Game Three. It didn’t happen. Patrice Bergeron scored on a power play with 2:53 left, deflecting a Brent Burns shot out of mid-air.
Then came the play and the shot that will be certainly rate as one of the most historic in recent Canadian hockey history.
Europe was on a power play, Roman Josi had hit the goalpost a scant minute before and Carey Price then stoned Marian Hossa from in front. Then Chicago’s Jonathan Toews – he of three Stanley Cups – carried the puck into the Team Europe zone. He made a nifty back pass to Brad Marchand and the Boston sniper beat Jaroslav Halak with a wicked snapshot with just 43.1 seconds left.
Team Canada 2, Team Europe 1. World Cup over.
(And time for everyone to go back to NHL training camp).
“When I got off the bench and saw ‘Toews-er,’ he was able to back everybody off,” Marchand said. “He made a great play to open up a lot of space, a phenomenal play to back everybody in. I just wanted to get a shot on net and luckily it went in. ... I’m a bit lost for words right now.”
Sidney Crosby was the MVP of the tournament and got to raise the World Cup over his head as the Air Canada Centre crowd roared, just as he raised the Stanley Cup three months ago in San Jose for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The frantic finish gives Canada 16 straight victories in best-on-best international competitions, dating to a loss to the United States in the pool play portion of the Vancouver Olympics. The run started there, went through Crosby’s Golden Goal against Ryan Miller, the 2014 Sochi Games and its first five games of this tournament.
Crosby is one of seven players who have been on the ice for all of those games under coach Mike Babcock. No coincidence that two of the others are Bergeron and Toews (along with Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Shea Weber, and Drew Doughty). Price has been along for that ride too, taking a game off here or there as needed. That’s a pretty incredible core right there with 10 Stanley Cups between them, and it’s what the hockey-mad nation needed to get its program turned around.
Crosby, remember, was thought to be on the downside of his career a scant 10 months ago. The Penguins were hovering around .500 and he was having trouble scoring goals under coach Mike Johnston. Then Mike Sullivan took over, the Penguins soared to another Cup and Crosby looks as good now as he did in June when he was wrapping up the Conn Smythe Trophy and taking the cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in San Jose.
“It’s special,” Crosby said. “I don’t have to look too far back, a year or so ... So I think I appreciate this is a lot. It’s nice. There’s a lot of expectations to play for Team Canada and we understand that. To be with this group of guys has been a lot of fun.”
“There might have been questions outside of the league about Sid but you talk to any player in the league, there’s no one that can compare to Sid,” Marchand said. “In hockey, bounces don’t always go in and plays aren’t always scored. It can be a matter of inches. To think things were going to be perfect all the time, they won’t be. You always knew Sid was going to bounce back from a tough start for his standards. The way he was able to rebount was just a phenomenal second half. There’s no question he’s the best player in the World.”
Marchand has emerged into a 30-goal scorer in the NHL and thrived in this tournament. What a week for Marchand: He’s getting fed by Crosby playing on the top line, signed an eight-year, $49-million extension with the Bruins and now he’s put up one of the signature goals in Canadian international play.
“The whole thing has been a whirlwind,” Marchand said. “When you come into a tournament like this, you try to take everything in. It’s the biggest stage in the world right now and to be part of it is an incredible honor.”
Team Canada entered the game 5-0 in the tournament and having outscored opponents, 22-7. Moreover, it had trailed for an aggregate of 2 minutes, 41 seconds in that span and never trailed at the end of a period in the entire tournament. But Team Europe went ahead on a quick wrist shot by 39-year-old Zdeno Chara at 6:26 of the first period off a feed from old friend Andrej Sekera and nearly made that hold up.