If Canada had defeated Team USA -- if Ryan Miller wasn't so good and Martin Brodeur so uncharacteristically unpoised playing the puck -- the host country would have had a two-step road to the Final. Now as it enters the only week of Olympic hockey that really matters, Canada needs to beat Germany on Tuesday, superstar-laden Russia on Wednesday and a second contender to play for the gold. The difference is not insignificant, but the challenge is far from insurmountable.
For a hockey power playing on home ice, this is not The Impossible Dream. This is the kind of four-game run a national team should have to win to prove its supremacy.
Canadians had every right to expect gold from their hockey heroes at the start of the tournament, and they still do. After Canada defeats Germany, there will be no better remedy for finally locating their mojo at Hockey Place than a monumental tilt against Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Russia.
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Winter Olympic Hockey ResultsThe loss to the U.S. was a surprise, a setback even, but will be forgotten the moment Canada takes cares of business against Germany on Tuesday and starts thinking about the rival Russians. When Roberto Luongo (or Brodeur or Marc-Andre Fleury) leads the Canadians on the ice on Wednesday and the roof comes off Hockey Place again, Sunday will be a memory.
And if the Canadians beat Russia -- that's a pick'em game, no matter where you play it -- the home team will be in the final four and return to its rightful place as one of the tournament favorites.
Of course, Babcock and assistants Jacques Lemaire, Ken Hitchcock and Lindy Ruff have plenty of work to do and decisions to make. While their penalty kill (8-for-9) has been effective, the power play (4-for-16) has been shockingly weak considering the firepower. At even strength or a man up, Canada needs more from power forwards Jarome Iginla, Rick Nash and Ryan Getzlaf. Big but not big-time playmaker Joe Thornton needs to show one of these days he's capable of taking over a game that means something.
There is also the matter of choosing a starting goaltender for the Germany game, which also means the Russia game. Babcock may have set the table for that one when he politely said of Brodeur's performance, "We would have liked to be better in that area." There is some danger, however, in going with Luongo; Monday will mark his sixth day without playing a game.
They did not lose to the U.S. because they were brought to their knees by the expectations of an adoring and nervous hockey-worshipping country. Canada lost because, as often happens in these tournaments, the other team's goaltender was the best player on the ice.
The bad news is, Canada has yet to play a strong, complete hockey game in Vancouver. That's also the good news. Said Brodeur, with an accurate, bright-side spin, "We're going to have an extra game now to get to know each other better."
Maybe that was the master plan all along. The preliminaries are over. There are plenty of reasons to believe the stars of the host country are just getting warmed up.