Team Europe is game, but Canada gets the 3-1 victory in Game 1 of World Cup final

The best effort the multi-cultural Team Europe could muster against mighty Canada was good but not good enough to win the opener of the World Cup final. If this were an NHL season or a best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series, the moral victory Europe claimed after its 3-1 loss Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre might mean something, might launch a championship run.

But for Team Europe, which has boasted it is free of pressure because it has no past and no future as currently built, there will be no long run. A loss on Thursday will leave the World Cup trophy in Canada and continue the host country’s international domination.

“We’re certainly disappointed right now but at the same time this was our best game so far in this tournament. We can’t hang our heads. There’s just no time for it,” Europe and Kings center Anze Kopitar said. “There’s quite a bit of time during the game where we were dictating the pace of the game. We certainly showed we can play with them. And that’s what we’ve got to take away. The first two goals were mistakes on our part and we’ve got to eliminate that and play our game.”

Center Frans Nielsen said minimizing miscues must be Europe’s focus in Game 2. If not, there won’t be a Game 3 on Saturday.

“We still have to be careful but we can’t have too much respect. We have to attack them and make them defend,” he said. “For the most part we did a good job of that.”

Europe had a chance on its first shift but couldn’t convert; Canada scored on its first shot against Jaroslav Halak, when Patrice Bergeron set up Brad Marchand for a redirect near the right post at 2 minutes 33 seconds  of the first period. That lead became 2-0 when Ducks and Canada center Ryan Getzlaf stripped the puck from defenseman Zdeno Chara and fed Steven Stamkos for a tap-in at 13:20.

Aided by the Canadians’ sloppiness, Europe — though playing without injured Kings winger Marian Gaborik — pelted Canada goalie Carey Price in the second period, but he stood firm until the 17-minute mark. That’s when Tomas Tatar converted the rebound of a shot by Dennis Seidenberg as the puck bounced in the slot.

“We didn’t play our best, that’s for sure,” Canada and Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. “They played well though, and we had spurts where we really let them outplay us. The third period was good but first two periods weren’t. We’re fortunate that we still came out with the win even though we didn’t play our best hockey.”

They were bailed out by the Bergeron-Sidney Crosby-Marchand line, which capped the scoring at 9:24 of the third period. Crosby dug the puck out behind the net and sent a backhand centering pass to Bergeron, who somehow was unchecked in the slot.

The line combined for six points Tuesday after having produced seven points in Canada’s 5-3 semifinal victory over Russia. Not a bad night and certainly not a bad few days for Marchand, who on Monday agreed to an eight-year, $49-million contract extension with the Boston Bruins. “In a short tournament like this chemistry is something that every team is trying to find, and those guys found it since Day One,” Stamkos said.

Still, Crosby found fault with his performance. “We need to be a little more sharp as far as passing and puck management, and play in the offensive zone a little more,” said Crosby, the most valuable player  in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup victory and the World Cup scoring leader with three goals and nine points in five games. “It’s easy to say that, but it takes hard work to get through those guys as far as the way they play defense.”

Kopitar got some encouragement before the game via a good-luck note from Wayne Gretzky, who on Tuesday was appointed an ambassador for the NHL’s 2017 centennial celebrations. Kopitar took encouragement afterward, too, from the determination he saw in his teammates’ eyes. “We can’t get discouraged,” he said. “We proved to ourselves, mostly, that we can play and we can dictate the pace and we’ve just got to skate, skate and work hard for each other.”

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