TORONTO -- The game of hockey is Canada's official winter sport. Despite a 3-1 victory over Team Europe, Team Canada played like it's still autumn.
In Canada's least impressive performance in the World Cup of Hockey, the team improved to 5-0 in this best-on-best tournament. But it wasn't what most expected from one of the greatest collections of talent in history. When the final buzzer sounded, Canada still gained a 1-0 lead in this best-of-three championship series which resumes Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
Given all the success Team Canada has enjoyed on the international stage -- they are now 11-0 since the start of the 2014 Sochi Olympics and have 15 consecutive wins dating back to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics -- this game was one of the most uncharacteristic performances by the boys with a Maple Leaf across their chest.
"Well, it wasn't our best, and we realize that," said Team Canada forward Steven Stamkos, who registered his first goal of the tournament. "At this time of the tournament, a win's a win, so that's a good thing. I thought in the third period we played better and with some purpose, some determination in our style of game, so hopefully we can build on that. We realize the first two periods weren't the way we wanted to come out and play."
For the first time in this tournament, Canada wasn't playing its style of game, and Europe took advantage of that. Europe played a patient, disciplined game. It played the better game for the first 40 minutes. Earlier in this tournament, Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said he doesn't give motivational speeches, given the fact that this roster is loaded with veteran leaders. But you can't imagine he was happy with the team's performance after the second period.
Canada needed to make better decisions with the puck. It committed too many turnovers. It lost too many puck battles. Fortunately, goaltender Carey Price was outstanding the first two periods before his teammates cleaned it up in the third en route to victory.
"Yeah, he played incredible," said Team Canada forward Brad Marchand. "He really kept us in it, especially when we were on the power play and they got that breakaway. You've got to give him a lot of credit tonight, he played unbelievable and did a great job keeping us in it."
Added Stamkos, "That's why [Price] is one of the best in the world. In a big-game situation when the guys in front of you don't have their best, he stepped up and made some huge saves and gave us a chance to wake up a little bit and win. It was great to see, and the guys in the room know what he's capable of when he's on his game, and he proved that tonight."
Ultimately, Canada grinded out a win. So, what does it need to have more of in Game 2?
"Urgency," captain Sidney Crosby said. "We need to be a little more sharp, as far as passing and puck management, and play in the offensive zone a little more. It's easy to say that, but it takes hard work to get through those guys and the way they play defense, so we have to make sure we do that."
Once again, it was Canada's top line of Marchand, Crosby and Patrice Bergeron that propelled the team to victory. Bergeron and Marchand each had a goal and an assist, while Crosby registered two assists. Even though they continue to lead Canada's offense, Babcock wasn't letting anyone off the hook.
"I don't know if they were as good tonight as they have been, but they were good," Babcock said of the top line. "We needed more guys on deck tonight. We weren't as good as we have been, and we'll be a lot better next game."
Maybe veteran forward Claude Giroux, who has been a healthy scratch for four of the five games in this tournament, will get another look in Game 2 in order to add a bit of spark and offensive punch to the lineup. After Game 1, Babcock said he would watch the game again before making any lineup decisions for Game 2.
If Europe learned anything from its Game 1 loss, it's that Team Canada can be sloppy. It's unlikely, however, that Canada and its collection of talent will play another game as poorly as it did on Tuesday. Europe should be ready for an entirely different team on Thursday.