TORONTO — The Canadian machine rolls along.
After handling Team Europe with relative ease Wednesday night via a 4-1 count in a game that had only seeding implications, Canada will await the outcome of Thursday afternoon's Russia-Finland clash. If the Russians win, it will be Canada hosting Russia on Saturday evening. If Finland upsets the Russians, Team North America would advance, setting up Connor McDavid versus Sidney Crosby.
What Wednesday's often-ragged game did establish was a Team Europe versus Sweden match Sunday afternoon.
The Swedes, who lost to Team North America in overtime earlier in the day, will be prohibitive favorites. But that's nothing new for Team Europe, which entered the tournament as a long shot to advance beyond the three-game preliminary round.
If there is reason for the Swedes to be wary, it's in the structure that head coach Ralph Krueger and his staff have imposed on this group of players from eight different European nations.
Sure, Canada enjoyed a wide margin in shots, outshooting Team Europe 46-20, but that is more than a little deceiving as the Europeans did generate a number of quality chances but saw shots sailing high and wide all night. They also rarely allowed Canada's superior offense to get rolling via odd-man rushes.
Canada went with a modified lineup for this final preliminary game, giving Corey Crawford the start in goal and resting Carey Price, who did not dress. Shea Weber and Ryan Getzlaf also sat, giving Claude Giroux and Jake Muzzin their first taste of World Cup action. Both Weber and Getzlaf are expected in the Canadian lineup Saturday.
With only first place in Group A on the line, this one lacked much in the way of pizzazz and had the feel more of a pre-tournament game. In fact, at one point in the third period Marian Hossa stopped to make sure Brad Marchand was OK after the two collided during the European's only power play. Marchand later went to the Canada dressing room for repairs. He eventually returned.
That said, Canada once again showed that even firing on half cylinders, it is a handful. Sidney Crosby's line was once again a force, with Crosby scoring the first goal of the game on a wraparound. The Canadians would have had a handful more if Jaroslav Halak had not made it a personal mission to stone Marchand at every turn.
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The Canadian power play wasn't in sync, going 0-for-4, and if Team Europe goes on a penalty jag as it did in the second period, taking two minors and a double-minor, the Swedes will make quick work of the Europeans. Anze Kopitar drew an assist on Team Europe's only goal by Marian Hossa, but the team's captain will have to be a more dynamic force if Europe is going to keep its magic alive.
1. Jonathan Toews, C, Canada: The Chicago captain scored his second and third goals (adding an assist) of the tournament, including a beauty on a breakaway.
2. Jaroslav Halak, G, Europe: Halak was again exceptional for Team Europe, stopping 42 of 46 shots. He entered with a tournament-best .969 save percentage.