TORONTO -- The World Cup of Hockey trophy, whatever the heck they call that monstrosity of an award that goes to the winner of the event, will be in the Air Canada Centre Thursday night as Canada tries to lock down its third consecutive best-on-best championship when it faces Team Europe.
There's no question that the air has gone out of this tournament somewhat in recent days -- especially after Team Europe upended heavily favored Sweden in the semifinals, giving Canada what most believed would be an easy path to a tournament title in the best-of-three finals.
Of course, Team Europe had other plans and played a near-perfect game in the opening title of the finals on Tuesday night before ultimately falling 3-1. Europe head coach Ralph Krueger and his players were defiant in the wake of the loss, insisting that they took no moral victories from essentially playing Canada to a standstill before losing because of a couple of defensive breakdowns.
The problem for the Europeans is that Canada played its worst game -- not just in this tournament, but dating all the way back to early in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Canada's head coach, Mike Babcock, wasn't happy with his team's performance, and it's a good bet that Canada will come with a lot more jump and be a lot less mistake-prone on Thursday. The question will be whether the Europeans can handle early pressure -- they allowed a goal by Brad Marchand on Canada's first shot on goal Tuesday -- and then counterpunch with the kind of persistent forecheck we saw for much of Game 1.
In the end, it won't matter if Team Europe can't solve Canada's goalie, Carey Price, who was tested more on Tuesday than he had been by any other team in this tournament. For Team Europe, that means capitalizing on odd-man rushes and getting its power play, which is currently 0-for-15 with the man advantage, to click. It's a tall order, to say the least, but nobody should be taking the plucky Europeans lightly after Game 1. The question is whether they've got enough in their toolbox to send this tournament to one final, deciding game Saturday. Our guess is that the strange-looking trophy gets handed out Thursday night.
Line match: If the World Cup does end Thursday night, it will be our last last look at what has been the most dominant forward combination of this tournament -- and maybe any best-on-best tournament in recent memory. Could Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron and Marchand reunite in two years if the NHL returns to the Olympics in South Korea? There's no reason they wouldn't, as all three are still in the prime of their careers.
But if we're talking about a four-year gap until the next World Cup, well, that's a little different story. By then Crosby will have more than done his duty, winning two Olympic gold medals and likely a World Cup, plus at least two Stanley Cups, and Bergeron will be 35. But it has been fun -- especially given how often in the past Babcock has been forced to tinker in an effort to find effective linemates for Crosby.
How good has this unit been? Crosby, Bergeron and Marchand are the top three scorers in the tournament, and have combined for 10 goals and 12 assists. The line scored more goals in the tournament than did Team USA, Czech Republic, Sweden and Finland. And unless Team Europe can come up with an answer for the line, it'll all be over Thursday night.