By Frank Pingue
TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada drew first blood in the best-of-three World Cup of Hockey final on Tuesday with a 3-1 victory that brought Team Europe’s Cinderella run a step closer to striking midnight.
Team Europe, a medley of players from eight countries that were widely picked to finish last when the tournament began 10 days ago, got off to a fast start but Canada quickly took control.
“We came here today to find a way to win a game, we won a game,” said Canada coach Mike Babcock told reporters. “So now tomorrow, we’re going to get better again.”
After withstanding a flurry of Team Europe shots, Canada’s Brad Marchand opened the scoring after a short pass from Patrice Bergeron less than three minutes into the game.
Canada added another later in the period when Ryan Getzlaf took advantage of a turnover by Slovak defenseman Zdeno Chara and raced down the ice on a three-on-one break before feeding Steven Stamkos for his first goal of the tournament.
Team Europe did well to stymie the Canadian attack in the second period and pulled to within a goal when Slovak forward Tomas Tatar pounced on a rebound seven minutes into the period.
But that was all the scoring the Europeans, whose roster includes players from Slovenia, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France and Norway, could muster.
Bergeron restored Canada’s two-goal lead when he cashed in a feed from Sidney Crosby, who sent a backhand pass from behind the net, midway through the final period.
The Olympic champions will get a chance to clinch the World Cup of Hockey title in Game Two on Thursday.
Team Europe, dismissed by many as gimmicky before their run to the final, were dejected but remain confident they have the pieces in place to strike back.
“Certainly disappointed right now but at the same time this could arguably be our best game so far in this tournament,” said their Slovenian captain Anze Kopitar.
“We certainly showed we can play with them and that’s what you got to take away. Obviously the first two goals, mistakes on our part, and we got to eliminate that and play our game.”
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Turner; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)