Canada’s path more difficult with loss to U.S.

 

Tournament teams often complain about having to mesh in a limited number of games.

 
 
 
 
 

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VANCOUVER - Tournament teams often complain about having to mesh in a limited number of games.

Well, Canada’s hockey heroes just earned themselves an extra game to tune up -- thanks to Sunday’s compelling, at times agonizing, 5-3 loss to the United States.

On the final day of the Olympic hockey preliminary round, the U.S. nurtured the tiniest of leads until it grew into a bigger one, despite Canada’s best efforts and 45 shots directed at American goaltender Ryan Miller.

“He made some big saves, we threw a lot at him,” said Canadian centre Sidney Crosby, who was brilliant himself in flashes, but minus-3 on the night, typifying Canada’s frustration.

As to goaltender Martin Brodeur, who stopped 19 of 23, with an empty net to boot,   he probably earned a seat on the bench. Puck handling mix-ups with his defence were an issue for Brodeur, usually stellar in that area.

Canadian head coach Mike Babcock said he will review tape of the game, and “without emotion” make a decision on whether to return with Roberto Luongo in Tuesday’s qualifier/elimination game against Germany.

The Americans seized first place in Group A with nine points, earning a bye to the quarterfinals. Canada finishes with five points and will have to beat Germany to reach the final eight. Off their victory over the Czechs, Russia is looming in the quarters.

The really nervous nights, Canada, are yet to come.

From the opening faceoff of Game 2 of ‘Rivalry Day,’ the Americans bolted into the Canadian zone, creating a scoring chance on the initial shift. Just 41 seconds into the game, the  USA was on the board, when a point shot by defenceman Brian Rafalski deflected off the stick of Crosby and past Brodeur.

 If the Canadians were tentative in the early minutes, they came on mightily, putting enormous pressure on Miller and the U.S. defence. By the end of the period, the Americans looked like a pummeled boxer, desperate for the bell to sound on the round.

Still, the USA had the lead after 20 minutes, 2-1, with another goal by Rafalski after Canada’s Eric Staal had tied it at 8:53 of the first. Staal was cruising through the slot when he tipped Brent Seabrook’s simple wrist shot from the point, knocking the puck down and past the reach of Miller.

The goal ignited the crowd, but the cheers subsided just 18 seconds of playing time later. Brodeur whacked a loose puck out of the air but he didn’t get all of it -- he hit a slow roller to a shortstop -- and Rafalski blocked it at the blueline. The Detroit Red Wings veteran then eased forward, finding an opening and sliding the puck underneath Brodeur, a curling shot, minus the broom.

Canada outshot the U.S. 19-6 on the period.

The Canadians owned everything about the second period, except a lead.

Using their superior size and star power, the Canadian forwards pushed pucks deep, worked cycles and pounded on the American defence. Nash, in particular, was a wrecking force, driving his 6-4, 220 pound frame into Jack Johnson and Jamie Langenbrunner just to name a couple of his killer hits.

The line of Ryan Getzlaf, Eric Staal and Corey Perry also controlled the boards down low, and the Canadians tied the game 2-2 on a goal by Dany Heatley, his fourth of the tournament. Just over three minutes into the period, Heatley stood at the side of the crease, lonely as a B.C. lighthouse keeper, when a rebound came to him on a platter. Jonathan Toews took the shot, driving out from behind the net, his second assist of the day.

As Canada continued to force the play, it seemed a matter of time before the home nation took its first lead of the game. But there was nothing doing.

“We were a little jumpy with things,” was how captain Scott Niedermayer put it. “We settled that down, had some dominant stretches, but did everything but score.”

 Hockey delivers persistent lessons, and the hockey-mad audience here didn’t need to be told the Canadians had to score soon or something bad was going to happen at the other end. It did, on a harmless looking sequence that started with Brodeur getting bumped off balance by David Backes. Brodeur recovered, somewhat, but was sprawling on the ice when Chris Drury slammed the puck into an open net to give the U.S. its third lead of the day, 3-2.

“Ah,memories,” Miller said, about the sight of his former Buffalo Sabres teammate, now a New York Ranger, scoring a big goal for him.

By now Brodeur had been victimized on a tip, a seeing-eye puck and a goalmouth scramble. On a third period power play, another deflection got past him, on yet another point shot by Rafalski, whose every shot brought trouble. In the crease, the skate of U.S. captain Jamie Langenbrunner deflected the puck past Brodeur to put the Canadians in a two-goal hole for the first time.

Crosby got that one back, on a pass from Nash, with 3:09 left in the third, but Ryan Kesler’s empty net goal closed out an intense game.

“There are things we can do better,” Niedermayer said. “Just go out and lay it all on the line.”

Canada will have to -- sudden death time has arrived.

 
 
 
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