TORONTO – Without the talent to match them, without the will to oppose them and without the leadership – from management on down – to hang with them, Team USA was unceremoniously dominated by Team Canada in their World Cup of Hockey Group A preliminary round game on Tuesday night, losing 4-2.
The win moved Canada to 2-0-0 (4 points) in group play. The loss dropped the Americans to 0-2-0 (0 points) in group play and ended any chance they could qualify for the tournament semifinals. Team USA has one meaningless game left against the Czech Republic on Thursday night, as Canada and Team Europe – a hodgepodge of players from “orphaned” tournament countries who handed the Americans their other loss on Saturday – both advance.
The Americans entered the game knowing their backs were against the wall, basically needing two regulation wins in their last two games to advance. They talked about matching Canada’s intensity, playing a physical and “gritty” game and outworking their arch-rivals.
They ended up looking like a hockey-centric spinoff of “The Walking Dead.”
But it didn’t start out that way.
Ryan McDonagh got the Americans on the board first with what could be correctly called a “truculent” goal.
Derek Stepan snapped a shot that went off of Carey Price’s right pad. McDonagh went high on Canada defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, knocking him down to the ice. He then slapped the puck past goalie Carey Price (34 saves) for the 1-0 lead just 4:22 into the game, sending the American bench into celebration.
It was short-lived.
Vlasic fired the puck from the blue line off the end boards, and it traveled in back of the net right to Matt Duchene. Dustin Byfuglien was looking the wrong way. So was Jonathan Quick. Duchene flipped it into a gaping net to tie the game 1-1 just 1:30 later.
Also short-lived? The tie.
Jonathan Quick (30 saves) is usually good for one misplay a game. It’s just a matter whether it’s a recoverable mistake or a damaging one. In this case, it was the latter: Logan Couture flipped the puck to the goal and Quick blocked it right into a driving Corey Perry, who slipped a John Carlson check. The puck bounced into the net at 6:05.
Team USA coach John Tortorella challenged the play. Perhaps he was hoping for a repeat of the James van Riemsdyk goal that was overturned in the Team Europe game, that officials said he deflected in with his body. Or perhaps he wanted to take a timeout anyway, and decided to get an extended break and potentially overturn a goal.
Whatever the case, the goal stood, and it was 2-1 Canada.
At least for the next six minutes and two seconds.
Forward Max Pacioretty failed to clear the puck, and then defenseman Erik Johnson did the same. This allowed Duchene – whom Pacioretty and Johnson ignored – to slip past three American players for a clear chance at the goal. He beat Quick to his five-hole, and it was 3-1 Canada, as it remained into the first intermission.
Team USA was down two goals. But its led in hits, 22-6, and blocked shots, 9-6. Which is about right for a John Tortorella team.
In the second period … well, it’s just not fair, is it?
John Tavares, one of the best players in the world, undressed USA defenseman Matt Niskanen and goes to the net, dishing to Patrice Bergeron, another one of the best players in the world. The puck deflected off of Bergeron’s skate, and then off McDonagh’s and then into the net for a 4-1 lead. And if it hadn’t, there was Sidney Crosby, arguably the best player in the world, ready to pounce.
(Unrelated: Patrick Kane skated with Justin Abdelkader for Team USA.)
The third period saw brief moments of life for Team USA, including three pucks that went off posts. T.J. Oshie scored on a scramble late in the period to cut the lead to 4-2. Jonathan Quick was pulled with just under two minutes remaining, but Carey Price shut the door.
The loss was a humiliation on the ice, and off, for Team USA. The World Cup was a chance for redemption after much of this team lost to Canada and then quit in a bronze medal game against Finland during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Instead, they won’t get out of group play.
Meanwhile, NHL hockey finally returned to ESPN with the World Cup of Hockey, with visions of a potential USA vs. Canada three-game final. Instead, ESPN’s centerpiece game of the tournament was a tedious Canadian hockey clinic interrupted only by the intermission ranting of former Team USA stars Brett Hull and Chris Chelios, ladling gasoline on the fire consuming the team’s coaching and management.
American players celebrated the fact that their friends and family could finally watch them on a channel “you can find” in the United States.
One wonders how quickly they changed it to something less disappointing.
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