Team Europe, comprised of players from eight different countries ( Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland) and formed solely for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, has made it to the best-of-three tournament final.
A showdown with the deep Canadian side became reality when Tomas Tatar scored at 3:43 of overtime on Sunday at the Air Canada Centre, giving the Europeans a 3-2 semifinal victory over Team Sweden.
“We’re not surprised to be here, but excited,” Europe coach Ralph Krueger had said before the game.
Game 1 of the final is Tuesday night at the ACC, with Game 2 following on Thursday.
Beating Sweden in a semifinal is one thing. Attempting to beat Canada twice in three opportunities is likely asking for too much. Canada handled Europe by a 4-1 score in the preliminary round.
It’s not exactly going out on a limb to predict Canada wins the tournament, likely hoisting the trophy some time late on Thursday night.
Tatar beat Sweden goalie Henrik Lundqvist when a pass from Mats Zuccarello went off his skate and into the net. The goal was confirmed after a review.
Not long before that, Europe goalie Jaroslav Halak made a big pad save on Nicklas Backstrom.
With four minutes 32 seconds remaining on the clock in the third period, a shot from the point by Sweden’s Erik Karlsson eluded Halak, tying the game 2-2. Tatar had given the Europeans a 2-1 lead early in the third.
Not that the Swedes were comfortable, but from the way the game was going, they appeared to need just one more goal to win after taking a 1-0 lead at 2:31 of the second period. That was when Backstrom deposited an Anton Stralman rebound past Halak and into the net.
Europe’s Marian Gaborik scored with under four minutes to play in the second period when he shoveled the shot past Lundqvist, the puck coming to rest an inch or so over the goal line.
The Gaborik goal set the table for some drama entering the third period. But it didn’t last long.
Tatar scored a goal defined by hustle at 12 seconds of the third, bursting between defensemen Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman to put his own rebound behind Lundqvist.