It wasn't the prettiest game they've ever played, but Team Canada kicked off their Olympic gold medal defense with a 3-1 victory over Norway on Thursday afternoon in Sochi.
The game got off to an incredibly sluggish start for the defending champions, as they struggled to cope both with Norway’s physicality and their own inability to pass the puck cleanly. Mike Babcock began shuffling lines up a bit early as the team tried to find its rhythm, but none of the tweaks worked right away.
The Canadians did get a few chances to score in the period, with Corey Perry finding Drew Doughty on a pass from behind the net late in the period, but he was stopped by Lars Haugen in front to keep the game scoreless, which it remained through the end of the period.
In the second period, the two sides were still struggling to get any push offensively, but the Canadians finally got on the board on a delayed penalty call. Benn got the puck behind the net and made a nifty move, but he was tripped up. After Duncan Keith made a splendid play along the boards to retain possession, he pushed the puck out to Shea Weber, who unleashed a hellacious slapshot that beat Haugen and gave the Canadian side a 1-0 lead.
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After that goal, the Canada offense seemed to come to life. Chris Kunitz got some great pressure on the puck in the neutral zone, and he ended up getting stopped on a semi-breakaway attempt by Haugen. On the next sequence, it was Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp getting in on the action, with Toews’ deflection bouncing off the post and Sharp’s subsequent rebound attempt skittering wide.
With all of that pressure, the Canadians were bound to score, and they did just that with about five minutes remaining in the period. Patrice Bergeron got the puck in the low slot, and he put a perfect pass across the ice onto Benn’s stick in the opposite circle. Benn wristed a shot high over Haugen’s shoulder and just under the crossbar, and the Canadians grabbed a two goal advantage.
Late in the period, Sharp and then Keith picked up minors to keep Canada shorthanded, and in the carryover penalty time to start the third period, Norway scored. Canadian goaltender Carey Price went behind the net to play the puck, but ended up mishandling it. Mathis Olimb took advantage of the miscue, coming in from behind the net to put a shot on goal, and Patrick Thoresen ended up deflecting it in past Price to make it a 2-1 game.
Unfortunately for Norway, Canada was in no mood to let the game remain close. Ryan Getzlaf collected the puck along the boards, and he somehow directed a pass through traffic and over to Drew Doughty just outside of the far face-off circle. Doughty then made a gorgeous move to slice through the Norway defense, and he deked out Haugen to make it a 3-1 contest.
As the period wore on, the Canadian side continued to get some great chances. Patrick Marleau took his turn through the offensive zone as he dove between two defenders, but he was unable to beat Haugen on either of his shot attempts. Alex Pietrangelo was then given a ton of open ice outside of the dots, but his pinch-in attempt was gloved by Haugen to keep the game at just a two-goal deficit.
The game started to get a bit chippy in the closing minutes, as Kristian Forsberg was sent to the box for interference. On the subsequent Canadian power play, Chris Kunitz took a couple of slashes from Haugen, and then rammed a Norwegian player into the boards. Not appreciating the hit, Alexander Bonsaksen went after him, and both men were sent to the penalty box.
Norway did get one more power play late in the game after Bergeron was sent off for interference, but they weren't able to convert as Canada held on for a two goal win.
Neither team will have much of a turnaround, as the Canadians will battle Austria on Friday, while Norway will take on Finland. Both games start at 11am Central time.