For local fans in need of their hockey fix after 5.5 long months of nothing puck-related, the Bruins’ preseason starts on Monday at TD Garden vs. Columbus (7, NESN). However, there are games with much more meaning later this week in Toronto with plenty of Black and Gold connections to add further intrigue. As expected, the host Team Canada (featuring Bruins center Patrice Bergeron and left wing Brad Marchand along with Claude Julien as an assistant coach) take on surprising Team Europe (led by defenseman Zdeno Chara) in a three-game set beginning on Tuesday (8, ESPN) at the Air Canada Centre. Game 2 is on Thursday night (8, ESPN2) with an if-necessary winner-take-all Game 3 on Saturday night (7, ESPN2).
So far, this tournament has been a reminder of how loaded Canada is while simultaneously making you wonder how they ever lose at any major international tournaments (World Cup, Olympics, etc.). Team Canada (4-0-0) has not had to sweat too much to reach this point although Russia led 2-1 late in the second period of Saturday’s semifinal contest before Canada closed them out with four straight goals in an eventual 5-3 victory. Canada opened this run with a statement 6-0 blowout of Czech Republic and they followed that up with a 4-2 win vs. Team USA that eliminated the Americans after only two games (they ended up a shameful 0-3). Canada and Europe met last Wednesday with the hosts skating to an easy 4-1 win thanks to two goals by Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.
Few figured that Team Europe (3-1-1) would get to this point so in that sense, they really have nothing to lose. Tournament darlings Team North America (Canadians and Americans 24-and-under) were bounced along the way while Europe knocked off Sweden (thought to be Canada’s biggest competition) with a 3-2 overtime win on Sunday. Red Wings winger Tomas Tatar scored two goals for Europe against Sweden including the game-winner 3:43 into overtime. Europe announced their presence immediately by shutting out the overrated Team USA 3-0. They came back with a 3-2 overtime win against Czech Republic before their humbling defeat vs. Canada.
Needless to say, Canada is a huge favorite to win the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Europe would have a better chance if it was a one-game final where anything can theoretically happen but to beat Canada twice in a few days in essentially a home game is a tall order to say the least. Everyone loves an underdog though and Europe certainly fits that bill, there wouldn’t be enough Molson in Canada for their obsessed fans to drown their sorrows in if the unthinkable actually happened (Europe winning the title). Playing on a line with Penguins icon Sidney Crosby, Marchand (3 goals, 2 assists, plus-3) and Bergeron (2 goals, 2 assists, plus-2) have to be loving life. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara has a goal for Europe while former teammate Dennis Seidenberg (who’s looking for another NHL contract) is plus-1 in three games for them.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate