Toronto — One game into the World Cup of Hockey, and the United States is on the verge of elimination.
The U.S. goes into its showdown against Canada tonight needing a victory to survive and give itself a chance to advance to the semifinals.
A loss in the opener to Team Europe and Europe’s overtime victory over the Czech Republic on Monday afternoon made this a win-or-go-home game for the Americans.
U.S. players circled the game against Canada as the biggest game of the tournament as soon as the schedule was released. Based on their precarious position, it has become exactly that.
“We were looking forward to this game as a great measuring stick, and the result of not winning the first game is it’s also for our lives now,” center David Backes said. “We can’t hold anything back. This is all the chips on the table for our team, and we need to play desperate.”
Coach John Tortorella called it the Americans “championship game” even before it was clear that they had to win to stay alive. He expects a charged atmosphere at Air Canada Centre.
“Playing there, against them, everybody wants us knocked out,” Tortorella said Monday. “I can’t wait and I think our players can’t wait for this game to start. It’s going to be a blast.”
The U.S. focus has been on Canada, but the host and tournament favorite is focused on itself. Goaltender Carey Price called facing the U.S. “just another game,” and Canada is going about its business as usual.
Canadian players even brushed aside eliminating the U.S. as a source of motivation. Canada just wants to beat everyone.
Europe 3, Czech Republic 2: Leon Draisaitl scored at 2 minutes 6 seconds of overtime to lift Team Europe.
Mats Zuccarello sprung Draisaitl in all alone and the Oilers forward beat Czech goalie Petr Mrazek low on his blocker side for his second goal of the tournament.
Zdeno Chara and Mats Zuccarello scored in regulation and Jaroslav Halak stopped 28 shots as Europe (2-0 in Group A).
Red Wings goaltender Petr Mrazek made 38 saves for the Czech Republic (0-2).
Europe took a 2-1 lead at 2:17 of the third period on Zuccarello’s first of the tournament. Moments after sprawling out to rob Roman Josi with a huge glove save, Mrazek mishandled Zuccarello’s fluttering wrist shot.
Russia 4, North America 3: Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Vladimir Tarasenko scored on consecutive shots and Sergei Bobrovsky made 42 saves in a fast-paced, end-to-end game. Russia’s offense came alive with four goals in a 6:14 stretch during the second period to chase North America goaltender Matt Murray, who stopped the first 15 shots he faced. Backup John Gibson only faced four shots and stopped them all.
No. 1 draft pick Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored for North America (1-1), which outshot Russia 45-23. Bobrovsky was brilliant as Russia (1-1) bounced back from an opening loss to Sweden.
The game was a showcase of the best of the sport, with firewagon hockey, plenty of goals and saves.