Few gave Team Europe much of a chance at the World Cup of Hockey. Too old, too unfamiliar with each other, too few superstars, too weak in the goaltending department.
Too bad Team Europe didn’t listen. With a 3-2 overtime win over Team Sweden on Sunday, Team Europe will play Canada in the best-of-three final series starting Tuesday.
Detroit’s Tomas Tatar scored twice, including the OT winner 3:43 into the extra session Sunday. Tatar also scored 12 seconds into the third period to give Europe a lead that it couldn’t hold.
In overtime, Tatar’s original shot on goal was stopped but he got a second whack at the puck and knocked it in. There was a video review, but the goal was upheld, eliminating the Swedes and giving Europe the victory.
They’ve been an underdog all tournament long were against Sweden, a 2-0-1 team featuring some of the biggest names of the tournament. Europe will most definitely be a galactically-sized underdog against Canada, which has destroyed everything in its path so far. The two played during the preliminary round, with Canada winning 4-1. The score would have been much worse had Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak not kept Europe in range for much of the first half.
But Halak has been excellent in all of Europe’s games including Sunday’s, making 37 saves against Sweden. He’s now 9-0 against Henrik Lundqvist in his career and can add this game to his victories against the Rangers goalie while playing for the Islanders.
For everything Halak has been through with the Islanders - injuries, inconsistency, more injuries, being outplayed by Thomas Greiss (who is Team Europe’s third stringer), griping about the three-man rotation with youngster Jean-Francois Berube, questions of commitment and fitness, sports hernia surgery and the trade rumors that came up this summer as a result of all of this - they must be thrilled watching him take Team Europe this far. Either he’ll come back to Brooklyn healthy and ready to hit the ground running or he’s upped his trade value exponentially. (But seriously, don’t trade him, Garth)
Halak, Greiss, Frans Nielsen, Mark Streit, Nino Niederreiter and Thomas Vanek will face their former teammate John Tavares starting Tuesday night. The respect will be mutual. But that doesn’t mean he and his new, temporary teammates are going to take it easy on them.