Jaroslav Halak will have to steal the show for Team Europe. Beyond that, they'll need lots of luck, a bad Carey Price, and for Canada to succumb to pressure.
Photo by Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
My editor sent me an email Monday afternoon.
"Dave, any interest in writing a piece about how Team Europe can beat Team Canada?"
Sure. I can focus on Jaroslav Halak and -
"Sean already focused on Halak in his story today."
It's always great when your editor is pitching you an idea instead of the other way around. This way, we can avoid the early-week tradition of me asking to write, "Which NHL Duos Are Hockey's Ross And Rachel" and "Phoebe Buffay vs. Joey Tribbiani vs. Wayne Gretzky—Who Really Scored More In the 90s?" and get to the part where we agree on a topic that actually gets me paid.
But now that I've agreed to do this, and I can't write Halak's name 800 times and invoice my editor, I'm stuck like Danny and Rusty at the beginning of Ocean's Thirteen, because how in the world can Team Europe beat Team Canada two out of three times, even with a red-hot Halak?
On Canadian soil.
Without Marian Gaborik.
"Short of walking in with a bloody magnetron around your neck—you do know what a magnetron is?"
"Something that screws up the Canadians?"
"Short of that... I can't believe I am even talking about this, because this is a problem."
The problem for Team Europe is in order to beat Team Canada in the final, they basically need the hockey equivalent of the Ocean's crew robbing The Bank—rigging craps, blackjack, slots, roulette and facilitating an escape by fabricating an earthquake and installing an evacuation plan, all while getting that magnetron into the security room—twice.
Could Team Europe win one game? No question about it. It's hockey. No matter how overmatched a team may be—and Europe is overmatched at 1980 US Olympic hockey levels—it can always steal one from superior competition with a heroic goaltending performance.
But two? How can Ralph Krueger, who has now won more games with Team Europe than he did in one season with the Edmonton Oilers, pull off an upset that will echo for eternity?
OK, until the NHL regular season starts and we all immediately forget this tournament.
First off, Halak. He will need to make 40-plus saves twice for this to even have a shot at happening. That has to be the magnetron in this endeavor. One bad goal ends everything. No pressure, Jaro.
OK, do you remember the women's tournament at the 2014 Sochi Olympics? It was Canada, the United States and everyone else. Basically, Canada and the United States were like two Canadas at this World Cup. They would simply bury teams under an avalanche of shot attempts until the other team eventually cracked. It was as inevitable as it gets.
During the round-robin play, Canada was throttling Finland. Through two periods, the game was scoreless, however, as Finland goalkeeper Noora Raty stood on her head. The announcers were talking about sticking around for the third period to see one of the biggest upsets ever and blah blah blah.
Canada scored three times in the third and won 3-0. They were outshooting Finland 27-10 through two periods and dummied them further in the third period with a 12-4 shot advantage. When the talent level is this wide and the shot discrepancy that massive, the math makes the outcome a foregone conclusion.
That's what we have here with Team Europe and Team Canada.
How does Europe win even with Halak doing a Raty impression for multiple games?
They need two power-play goals in every game. If they get two chances or five chances, they need to put two pucks past Carey Price. It's non-negotiable. OK, it's somewhat negotiable. They need at least one to have a chance. The formula is playing Canada even at evens (thanks to Halak) and burying a power-play goal or two.
They also need Price to be flat-out bad in one appearance. Beat him with a fake dump-in that's really a shot on net. Have a shot from along the goal line go through his legs. Get ahead early on a bad goal or two and hang on for dear life (this is again a roundabout way of screaming HALAK over and over).
All Team Europe needs is a mix of incredible goaltending, pristine special teams and an off-night from Price.
And then they need all that to happen again.
One of the more nonsensical things sports analysts discuss is where pressure lies between two teams, especially during a postseason series. This team is down 3-0 or 3-1, so all the pressure is on the team with three wins, for some silly reason that lacks any sort of anecdotal evidence. Both teams have pressure. One wants to win a series; the other wants to survive. Knock that off, announcers.
This is the rare time when all the pressure is on one team—Canada. They are playing at home and are -2000 to win this tournament, which means you'd have to bet your house, car and second child in order to win $10 bucks on Canada. There are no definitive lines available for that 1980 game between USA and Russia, but Team Europe needs to pull that same upset twice.
So maybe Halak steals one of the first two games. Then it all comes down to one game, one game Canada should win by five. But look at this, Tomas Tatar beats Price from a sharp angle seven minutes into the first period to make it 1-0. Suddenly, the Canadians gulp. Sphincters tighten. Stomachs churn. They think back to that one game Halak stole. They think about having to live with this epic loss forever.
And just like that, Halak finally proves to the world that he has always been a superior goaltender to Price. Europe wins Game 3 and a continent rejoices!
But really, Canada probably wins the first two games by a combined eight goals. It's like Ocean's Thirteen, only Willy Bank kills Danny's entire crew and continues to run a profitable casino that never loses.
For more World Cup of Hockey stories, check out our full coverage here.