Whatever it is about the Olympic hockey tournament, it just brings out the best in the Los Angeles Kings' Drew Doughty.
Doughty, who was probably Canada's best player in the first two games of the tournament, was the leader again Sunday night, scoring both goals as Canada edged Finland 2-1 in overtime to earn the No. 3 seed in the playoffs which begin next week.
Canada gets a bye into the quarterfinals and will play Wednesday against the winner of the Latvia-Switzerland game. Had Canada won the game in regulation, it would have earned the top seed in the preliminary round and a date with either Austria or Slovenia. But this isn't bad either, and it's far better than the alternative if they'd lost – which would have dropped them to the fourth seed and likely meant yet another quarterfinal meeting with Russia.
As it is, Canada is on the same side of the medal-round draw as the United States. If both win their quarters, they will meet in the semifinals. Sweden, the No. 1 team, and either Finland at No. 4 or Russia at No. 5, are likely to meet in the other half of the draw.
Doughty opened the scoring for Canada on a first-period power play and won it in overtime on a feed from Kings' teammate Jeff Carter. Once again, the Carter-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Marleau line was Canada's most effective unit – Toews came close to scoring on a second-period wrap-around and they had good pressure on the Finns throughout the game.
But nobody put on a show the way Doughty did. In the NHL, he plays for a team that emphasizes defence at all costs. Here, coach Mike Babcock gives him the freedom to go on the attack – expects it in fact – and Doughty is flourishing, with the reins slightly relaxed.
"I don't know what's going on," Doughty said. "I don't score like this in L.A. at all. A lot of it is just my teammates – they're doing a great job of getting me the puck. When you play with these high-skilled forwards, all you've got to do is find some room on the ice and they're going to find you, so – just trying to get my shots through and on the net."
"He's full of confidence and he's loose," Carter said. "Combine his confidence and his incredible skill and it makes for a pretty dynamic player."
Canada held a territorial edge on the injury-depleted Finns for most of the game, but Finland kept it close, largely through the strong work of goaltender Tuukka Rask. Canada opened the scoring on a first-period power-play goal from Doughty, his third of the tournament already, and had a second goal, by Rick Nash, disallowed. On the play in question, Nash cleverly played a puck that had landed atop the Finnish goal, knocking it loose with his stick. As it jostled free, it caromed off Rask's back and into the goal.
Under IIHF rules, as long as Nash didn't touch the puck – and replays indicated that he did not, he simply slashed the netting to free it up – it should have counted. Instead, after a video review, it was ruled that Nash had made contact with the puck and thus the goal was disallowed because it was played with a high stick.
Coach Mike Babcock shifted his lineup around again, playing Sidney Crosby with Patrice Bergeron and Jamie Benn and sending Martin St. Louis to the press box as the spare forward. Crosby had an assist on Doughty's goal but acknowledged there wasn't a lot of open ice to work with.
"Today was a little bit more of a test of our patience," he said. "With possessing the puck as much as we did, we could have easily taken some chances and pushed a little bit and maybe made a mistake that hurt us, but I don't think we gave up a lot and still generated some chances in the third. You're always looking at different things. I think our team speed has been good and has continued to get better. We're holding onto the puck a lot."
Overall the game lacked pop or any real sense of drama. Both teams were sound positionally and kept the risky plays down. In the third, trying to get the win in regulation, Canada poured it on, but had no answer for Rask.
"We had a lot of chances, a couple just bounced the wrong way," said Toews. "For the most part, we had the puck, and created a lot. It's gonna come. Nice to find a way to win as a team.
"We had a number of chances off the bat, but it's hard to get them out of position. They lock the front of the net down so well, so you've just got to be patient. I think early in the game we tried to make plays through guys too often and they turned into odd-man rushes back our own way. So we kind of learned from that, and just hung onto the puck a little more.
"If you're not in the right place in the right time [for rebounds] there's a lot of ice to go cover and go try to find those pucks."
As Toews alluded to, Finland's style could be described as a modified rope-a-dope. They managed just four shots in the second period and just two more in the third and clearly looked as if they were playing to get the game into overtime with the teams tied. Finland had just four second-period shots, but one was a nice deflection by Tuomo Ruutu, who got inside position on Marc-Edouard Vlasic and made a good play.
"We were disappointed we gave up that goal at the end of the second and we just wanted to get it back. So we decided to pick up our socks and really keep possession of the puck and create good opportunities. They did a good job of playing defence tonight."
Babcock has been at pains to remind everyone this week that four years ago in Vancouver, when the Canadian men won the gold medal, they were just 1-1-1 in the preliminary round and entered medal-round play as the sixth seed.
So anything and everything is still possible, with the qualification playoff round set to go Tuesday, with Russia (5) playing Norway (12); Switzerland (6) playing Latvia (11); the Czech Republic (7) playing Slovakia (10); and Slovenia (8) playing Austria (9).
By virtue of their byes, Sweden, the United States, as well as the Canadians and Finns will play their next games Wednesday in the quarter-final.
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