TORONTO -- Greatest hockey team ever?
Let the argument begin.
With apologies to the great Soviet national teams of yesteryear that were simply outstanding but didn't get to regularly test themselves against NHL players, Team Canada circa 2014-16 might go down as the most dominating squad to ever hit the ice in the modern era.
A perfect 12-0-0 between the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the World Cup of Hockey -- with Thursday night's thrilling 2-1 victory over Europe at Air Canada Centre as the finishing touch -- is a stretch of hockey we won't soon forget.
"It's pretty special," said World Cup MVP Sidney Crosby. "It's not easy to do, and for a good chunk of us, a lot of us were together there in Russia.
"Everyone understands playing for Team Canada, you're willing to do anything to win."
And with three straight wins in best-on-best hockey when including Canada's gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, it's first time that's happened since Canada took home three straight Canada Cups in 1984, 1987 and 1991.
And again, the Soviet national teams from the 1950 to 1990 won a million world championships and Olympic gold medals but didn't have to play the very best of the NHL in those tournaments.
What stands out in this 12-0-0 run by Team Canada, in which it outscored the opposition 41-11, is that it has come against the very best players in the world, and at no time in either tournament did anyone feel like the result was in doubt.
"It's impressive to see how dominant Canada have been in the last two big tournaments," the great Nicklas Lidstrom, an adviser to Sweden, said via email on Thursday. "They've been able to win games even when they haven't played their best, and that really shows how strong of a team they have been in these best-on-best tournaments."
And that's just it. They won ugly in Game 1 of the World Cup finals and needed a late rally to finish the job Thursday night over a plucky Europe squad. But find a way to win, no matter how they play, is what this Team Canada has done.
The 1-0 semifinals win over Team USA in Sochi was close in score only. Canada owned the puck all game long.
Team Canada played keep-away with the puck on the bigger ice in Sochi, outscoring the opposition 17-3. Here on the smaller NHL ice at the World Cup, Canada played its more natural game -- a smothering, four-line attack that forced turnovers and created all kinds of zone time and scoring chances en route to outscoring teams 24-8.
"It's a good group of players right now; just look at the names they leave off. and then [coach] Mike [Babcock] just does a really, really good job of preparing them and getting them ready, and no matter how much each guy is playing, everyone is buying in," Steve Yzerman, architect of the 2010 and 2014 Canadian Olympic teams and now looking on from the outside, said on Thursday. "You also have to really credit Hockey Canada from the top on down and how they do things."
We wanted to talk ourselves into thinking Sweden or Team USA had a chance to dethrone the champs. But really? Team Canada is a team with the best player in the world in World Cup MVP Sidney Crosby, the two best two-way forwards in the world in Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron, arguably the best defenseman in the world in Drew Doughty (Erik Karlsson might have a say in that) and certainly the best goalie in the world in Carey Price.
Isn't that just the kicker with this team, right? When the opposition finally gets a hold of the puck for the odd scoring chance, whether that was in Sochi or here at the World Cup, the last guy standing in its way is Price, whose demeanor is perfect for this team.
"He gives your group confidence and an aura of calm like no one I've ever been around," Babcock said of Price.
And what of Babcock, arguably the best coach in the game? He has been behind the bench for two Olympic gold medals and now a World Cup championship. He has sold a game plan. And once again, he got a complete buy-in from some of the very best players in the world. Zero pushback. That's the respect and trust he has built up with these studs.
The next time Team Canada laces up for a best-on-best tournament, whether that's the 2018 South Korea Olympics or the next World Cup, Connor McDavid will be front and center. So it's not as though Team Canada as a powerhouse is going away.
"It's such a good group of players, that whole age group, and there's more young ones coming along now that should keep it going for a while," said Yzerman.
But one day, this unbelievable stretch will end. Canada will actually lose a game in best-on-best hockey. It will lose a tournament. Team USA's next generation of stars is at hand, a rival of equal footing perhaps soon enough.
So to my fellow Canadians, make sure to fully absorb what has happened here during this era. It won't always be this way. Don't take this for granted.
This was, by any measure, an unparalleled era of success.