Connor McDavid scooped up the puck near Team North America’s bench and flicked off Pavel Datsyuk, one of the best defensive forwards of all-time, like a bug on his visor before feeding Auston Matthews for an early goal of the year candidate.
It was a W-O-W moment that drew all 19,078 fans at Air Canada Centre to their feet, knowing they’d just witnessed the next decade of the NHL in the M&Ms with their own eyes.
For those few euphoric minutes, Team North America almost seemed invincible in the World Cup of Hockey. The buzzing Young Guns pelted Sergei Bobrovsky with point-blank chances. Another rout of a traditional hockey country seemed possible, if not plausible.
And then reality clicked in.
Team North America looked, well, like a group of 23-and-under players during the second period, their miscues leading to four consecutive goals-against and ultimately a 4-3 loss to Team Russia.
“I thought we looked unsure out there for the first time as a team,” coach Todd McLellan said. “You know, when you’re a group of young players, you’re looking for somebody just to take charge and settle it down, maybe get a shift or two under your belt, and we didn’t get that quick enough. That happens when you’re young. That happens when you’re inexperienced.”
Now, with a 1-1 record in the preliminary round, Team North America will need a win over Team Sweden on Wednesday afternoon or to pray for a surprise Finland victory over Russia and help in goal-differential to stay alive.
The optimist will say Team North America showed moxie in the face of adversity for the first time, with Shayne Gostisbehere ringing the tying goal off the post in the dying seconds of regulation.
The pessimist will say the Young Guns blew an opportunity to deal a knockout blow to a world hockey superpower in Russia with a win which would have eliminated them from contention.
The realist will recognize that North America was pushed around physically by a veteran Russia, but punched back and recovered to keep their balance. Matt Murray said he “knew for a fact” North America would have tied the game with a few more seconds on the clock.
“We’re happy with the way we battled and pushed back,” said Morgan Rielly, who made North America’s comeback bid a reality with a late second period goal. “In an ideal world you don’t put yourself in that situation, you just play a good entire game and you don’t have to claw at the end of the game just to tie it up. I think we’re all happy with the way we battled at the end.”
McDavid had the chance to give North America a 2-0 lead on a breakaway in the first minute of the second period. He tried the stutter-step move that’s become his trademark, but Bobrovsky was ready for it.
“Every moment, every shot I was focused and that was the most important shot of my life,” Bobrovsky said.
McDavid’s missed opportunity was the TSN Turning Point. Russia reeled off four goals that period.
“The big moment, a big hit or a huge save,” Alex Ovechkin said. “The team gets up and starts playing.”
Team North America eventually started playing again, but not after revealing a few warts. Rielly was beaten by Evgeny Kuznetsov off the rush, which he took “pretty much the entire responsibility for.” Dylan Larkin and Jonathan Drouin were both benched for the majority of the third player, with neither cracking 10 minutes in ice time.
Goaltender Matt Murray also showed he was human. He was pulled after allowing four goals on 19 shots, saying afterward that he jammed his thumb during the second period. Murray, 22, responded with a 6-0 record in the Stanley Cup playoffs the game following a loss.
But all is not lost. Questions linger, though North America still has a path to advance. It’s just more straight and narrow now.
“We grew tonight,” McLellan said. “We learned a lesson, and maybe we’ll need that against the Swedes a couple days from now.”
Defenceman Aaron Ekblad sat out Team North America’s loss with multiple reports indicating he suffered a ‘mild concussion’ after being hit by Finland’s Leo Komarov on Sunday. He was replaced in the lineup by Winnipeg Jegs defenceman Jacob Trouba. Coach Todd McLellan would not confirm the injury, only saying that Ekblad has an “upper-body” injury and is listed as “day-to-day.” According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, the Florida Panthers said there has been “no firm diagnosis” for Ekblad. “We’ll have to get an update on our total team health,” McLellan said.
Frank Seravalli, tsn.ca
Please comment and share below