By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) – Team Europe have faced long odds from the start of the World Cup of Hockey but they just got longer as they must sweep mighty Canada over the last two games of the best-of-three final to clinch the title.
Just winning one game will be a tall order for Team Europe but taking a pair from the two-time reigning Olympic champions would be the biggest international hockey upset since U.S. college players beat the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Games in a game known as the “Miracle on Ice.”
With their 3-1 victory in Game One on Tuesday Canada have now won 15 consecutive games in best-on-best competition, a streak that dates back to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Bookmakers certainly like Canada’s chances making them prohibitive 1-to-10 favorites while the Euros were devalued coming into the eight-team tournament as 33-1 longshots.
Despite the daunting task in front of them Team Europe head coach Ralph Krueger insists his squad will head into Thursday’s do-or-die clash full of confidence they can force the series to a decisive Game Three on Saturday.
“We all know this is the final series and also that it’s the best of three, and what order you win the two games in is irrelevant,” said Krueger. “I think we just have a group that understands the opportunity that we’re in and that we’ve created with a lot of hard work.”
The Europeans might be confident they can beat Canada but it is something no team has been able to do at the tournament where the hosts have won all five games they’ve played, including a 4-1 group stage win over Team Europe.
The key to victory will be finding a way to shut down Canadian captain Sidney Crosby, who leads all players with nine points after adding to his total with a pair of assists against the Euros in Game One.
Crosby and linemates Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have dominated opponents during the World Cup combining for 10 goals and 22 points.
“They’re good, and they’ve had a good tournament,” Canada coach Mike Babcock said after Tuesday’s win. “They’ve got three elite players on it and all different types of players, but they’ve been really good.”
“We just weren’t as good as we have been, and we’ll be a lot better next game.”
Even if Team Europe can neutralize Canada’s top line they must still find a way to put more than one puck past netminder Carey Price who is unbeaten in his last 15 appearances for Canada dating back to the 2007 world junior championship.
“We had a lot of opportunity that we didn’t make enough out of,” said Krueger. “I thought we could have tested Price a lot more with the chances we had, and some of them just died on our own sticks.”
(Editing by Frank Pingue)