Malcolm Subban, a human lightning rod for three weeks, was rather grounded in Team Canada's biggest win yet at the world junior championship. Not coincidentally, it came while the goalmouth around Canada's net was the only place in Ufa, Russia that was clear of traffic during their 2-1 win over Team USA.
Being goalie for Team Canada means being the nerve centre for an entire nation. Twenty-four hours ago, Subban was seen by many as not up to the job. Part of that was the ghosts of goaltending letdowns past, but more of it owed to his lack of a signature performance since the beginning of Canada's selection camp. It was easy to make a case the job had given rather than earned, to turn around a T-shirt slogan used by his Belleville Bulls.
It is safe to say the combo of the above two elements — better D and a dialled-in goalie — changed a lot of impressions. Those should a sleep-deprived nation rest easy ahead of Monday's momentous matchup with Team Russia (9 a.m. ET/6 a.m. PT, TSN/RDS, BTN livechat), which will decide the Group B bye to the semifinal. Confidence is contagious.
Asked Canadians when they could tell Subban was locked in; Camara: 'Breakfast', MacKinnon: 'Bus ride', McNeill: 'Warm-ups'
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) December 30, 2012
More to the point, there was what Subban, who stopped 36-of-37 shots, did when the former momentarily deserted him. With 8:58 left, Team USA's Jacob Trouba, denied three times earlier in the day, broke the shutout bid with a pinball goal right after John Gibson denied Ty Rattie on a short-handed 2-on-1 rush. The puck deflected by Canada's Xavier Ouellet, eluded the other defenceman Griffin Reinhart and trickled past Subban. The U.S., which had not generated much offensively, suddenly smelled blood.
Almost immediately, Seth Jones led a Team USA rush. There was the Boston Bruins goalie of the future again, doing a split save with those Inspector Gadget legs to deny Ryan Hartman's rebound shot and preserve the lead.
That did not decide the game. There was a heart-in-mouth 6-on-4 situation in the final 67 seconds of regulation. It was the decisive moment, though. No goalie can be perfect; all that can be asked of a goalie is don't let in the next one.
Anaheim Ducks prospect John Gibson (30 saves on 32 shots) was essentially just as a sharp as Subban. The Kitchener Rangers 'tender also faced down a 5-on-3 penalty kill in the final minutes to keep the U.S. in contact.
Victors write the history, though. Subban just gave off a better vibe from the opening faceoff. It started in the first period when he stoned Trouba on a sneak-in from the point. Later in the frame, he easily absorbed a redirected Trouba slapshot, the type of challenge that would have created a rebound and chaos around Canada's goal in the first two games. (As an aside, it's not especially good for Team USA that Trouba, for all the Winnipeg Jets first-rounder's merits as a future first-string defenceman, was also their best offensive player much of the day.)
Subban also used his stick to close off the five-hole when Johnny Hockey, Team USA's slick speedster John Gaudreau, got behind Reinhart for a breakaway in the first period. Gaudreau, the Calgary Flames prospect who regularly makes 20-something goalies look bad in the NCAA with Boston College, had a breakaway and nothing to shoot for; Subban got the his stick down to to stop a backhand five-hole bid.
The Americans also barely threatened during a four-minute power play in the second period. The tension never abated, though, since Gibson kept the pressure on his cord-cottage counterpart.
Please keep in mind that Subban's performance should not be oversold. The work Canada did blocking shots and forcing the U.S. to settle for bad-angle attempts from outside the dots helped immensely. Mark McNeill will need an extra ice pack.
The Scott Harrington-Dougie Hamilton defence pairing, along with Flames prospect Tyler Wotherspoon on the PK, were huge boosters. The result matters for Canada, of course, rather than how the credit should be apportioned.
Now Subban just has to do it again vs. Russia, whose goalies Andrey Makarov and Andrei Vasilevski have yielded only three goals in as many games. There are probably still cynics out there who won't be swayed by one great game. There is no final victory in this tournament until Jan. 5.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org (videos: TSN).