Canadians taking pivotal game in stride

Sunday, 02.21.2010 / 11:16 AM ET / News
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Canadians taking pivotal game in stride
The Canadians are taking their pivotal game against the U.S. in stride.
VANCOUVER -- Living in the athlete's village has afforded the Canadian hockey team a chance to soak up a part of the Olympic experience that the rest of us will never know. It has also allowed them to feel insulated from the enormous pressure they face.

"We're not exposed to everything that is going on around us," Sidney Crosby said.

In saying that, the Canadians fully comprehend how Sunday's pivotal game against Team USA will be viewed around their nation.

It's huge, enormous and some could argue even monumental, even though a medal isn't on the line and neither team will be wiped out of the tournament with a loss.

"Everybody is putting it on their calendar in Canada as a big game," Corey Perry said.

Team Canada has to forget all that when the puck drops.

We also have a lot of pride in the way we play and being Canadian. We have high expectations and we know that every game is important, but I think we are able to separate that and make sure we don't let these other things creep into our minds. - Sidney Crosby
A bye into the quarterfinals is what's really at stake. Bragging rights and pride, yeah, they matter, but they're also fleeting. Not having to play that extra game in this tournament, well that's something tangible, a realistic goal the Canadians can use for motivation.

"It's only bragging rights for a couple of days anyway," coach Mike Babcock said. "We want to be successful and they want to be successful. Obviously the path to where we both want to go is a lot easier if you win (Sunday)."

Except, nothing is ever easy for this Canadian team because nothing they do is on the small scale. Every line combination, defensive pair, goaltending decision, mistake, goal, shot, pass and power play seem as if they're magnified under an electron microscope.

A nation of GMs plus the large contingent of North American media here in Vancouver and those writing or talking about it across the continent are changing their Team Canada report card grades on a daily or perhaps even hourly basis.

There just isn't enough insulation to shield the players when they already know the professors are out there.

"It's exciting, but everybody is critiquing it," Perry said. "But you're not trying to take 30 million people and put them on your shoulders."

They're not because it'd impossible and it's not the right time for them to try that anyway. That's why the players are choosing to view this for what it is, not for what their fans and proud countrymen and women want it to be.

With a win, Canada gets two days off and a chance to scout its next opponent, whatever country it may be, in Tuesday's qualification playoffs. With a loss, Canada may have to play Tuesday and face elimination for the first time here.

"There is a lot at stake; it's just not all at stake," team captain Scott Niedermayer said. "The way the tournament is laid out, both teams are going to play another day, but in this short of a tournament you want to approach each game to be at your best. You want to use that, continue to build and get better.

"I think everybody is excited about it," he added. "We're excited about it. It's two good hockey teams trying to clinch a round-robin lead to get that bye into the quarterfinals. That's an important thing, so that's how I'm looking at it."

What Babcock wants most out is to see his team gel, the lines stick and the defense pairs work. He wants to see the power play click and a more aggressive and attacking team overall.

Winning is important and is obviously the end goal, but improving is still the most important thing for any team at this stage of the tournament.

That unrelenting pressure many fear could or perhaps even will eventually pop Canada's insulated bubble -- well, it should have nothing to do with how the hosts play on Sunday.

"The main thing in this tournament is to keep getting better, and if you win your games you go home happy," Babcock said.

Crosby said it's fair to compare Sunday's game against the Americans to a Game 3 in a playoff series. It's a swing game and it will be heavily scrutinized, but nothing will be won or lost.

"With each game it's going to get bigger and you're going to see more desperation," he said. "As we go along here it gets tougher and tougher and that's basically the way you look at a playoff series, too. You get closer to those important must-win games. They all feel like must-wins; it just becomes a little more with each one."

Canada's not there yet, though you'd never know if you ask a Canadian fan.

"We also have a lot of pride in the way we play and being Canadian," Crosby said. "We have high expectations and we know that every game is important, but I think we are able to separate that and make sure we don't let these other things creep into our minds."

Contact Dan Rosen at

Author: Dan Rosen | Staff Writer




1 p - NYR 82 53 22 7 252 192 113
2 y - MTL 82 50 22 10 221 189 110
3 x - TBL 82 50 24 8 262 211 108
4 x - WSH 82 45 26 11 242 203 101
5 x - NYI 82 47 28 7 252 230 101
6 x - DET 82 43 25 14 235 221 100
7 x - OTT 82 43 26 13 238 215 99
8 x - PIT 82 43 27 12 221 210 98
9 BOS 82 41 27 14 213 211 96
10 FLA 82 38 29 15 206 223 91
11 CBJ 82 42 35 5 236 250 89
12 PHI 82 33 31 18 215 234 84
13 NJD 82 32 36 14 181 216 78
14 CAR 82 30 41 11 188 226 71
15 TOR 82 30 44 8 211 262 68
16 BUF 82 23 51 8 161 274 54


A. Henrique 75 16 27 -6 43
M. Cammalleri 68 27 15 2 42
P. Elias 69 13 21 -20 34
S. Gomez 58 7 27 -10 34
S. Bernier 67 16 16 2 32
T. Zajac 74 11 14 -3 25
A. Larsson 64 3 21 2 24
A. Greene 82 3 19 1 22
E. Gelinas 61 6 13 -2 19
M. Ryder 47 6 13 -1 19
C. Schneider 26 31 9 .925 2.26
K. Kinkaid 6 5 4 .915 2.59