For the second time in three days, Slovakia threatened to topple a medal favorite, and for the second time Goliath got the last laugh. Despite trailing until late in the second period, Canada persevered to earn a 6-3 win.
The Canadian's second win was far from encouraging, as the team was expected to display a marked improvement from their first game against Germany. Although they scored nine goals against a woeful German squad, Team Canada was haphazard defensively surrendering three goals. Despite owing Slovakia a greater level of respect, Canada was burdened with the standard expectation of perfection.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Slovakia entered the game having already exceeded expectations. The Slovakians took a heavily favored Team Russia to overtime with a last minute goal on Wednesday, earning them a surprise point in Group B. Once again projected to be on the losing side of a blowout, the unheralded team took the ice looking loose and fearless.
The Slovakians courageously refused to hang back and wait for their opportunities early on. They grabbed the game by the jugular with Marko Dano giving them an early lead less than three minutes into the game.
A game misconduct penalty to JC Lipon gave Slovakia an opportunity to expand the lead late in the first period. Tomas Mikus took advantage of the five minute power play with help from Martin Reway to give Slovakia a 2-0 edge at the intermission.
As the entire nation of Canada entered panic mode, Coach Steve Spott was tasked with fixing the myriad problems that saw his so-called "dream team" outshot 11 to five in the opening period. His changes were immediately effective as Ryan Strome put Canada on the board just two minutes after the break.
Canada looked far more positive in the second period as they settled down defensively and started to produce plenty of scoring chances. However, Slovakia's challenge was not yet over.
Midway through the period, Canada bruiser Anthony Camara leveled Slovakia's Patrik Luza. No penalty was initially called on what looked like a clean hit, but when Luza was carted off and taken to the hospital, officials made the controversial decision to eject Camara from the game and award Slovakia a second five minute power play.
Joining the previously ejected Lipon and the suspended Boone Jenner in the stands, Camara left Team Canada with just 11 forwards. Camara and Lipon's hits will likely be reviewed by the IIHF before Sunday's game against the U.S., with suspensions possible.
On the ensuing man advantage, Marko Dano beat goaltender Malcolm Subban high to the blocker side to restore Slovakia's two goal advantage. Subban has faced mountains of criticism since a pre-tournament nightmare against the University of Alberta.
Despite Spott's hope that Subban will go wire to wire in net, the calls for backup Jordan Binnington are ubiquitous and growing in intensity. Though Subban has been fairly strong in net, making spectacular saves at times, he has failed to meet unreasonable standards. It seems that if he cannot be the tournament's best goaltender by a fair margin than critics will continue to hound him.
Despite giving up three goals in the first half of the game, Subban was unbeatable for the remainder. He has yet to allow a third period goal in the tournament.
It remains to be seen which Canadian goaltender will start against the United States but the smart money remains on Subban, although his critics will likely increase in numbers following a second imperfect effort.
After Slovakia's third goal, Canada finally found their legs. Their unstoppable offense kicked into gear and the ice tilted distinctly in their favor for the remainder of the contest.
Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Morgan Rielly got the rally going with a power play goal around the 12 minute mark. The defenseman finished the day with three huge points.
Just over three minutes later, defenseman Xavier Ouellet set up Ty Rattie for an easy tap in to tie the game at three. At the end of the second, Ouellet launched a shot that would be tipped in by Mark Scheifele to give Canada the lead.
Scheifele was spectacular throughout the evening, as he earned player of the game honors for his two points. The Winnipeg Jets first rounder physically battled for everything he got and played a vital role in the comeback.
After the second intermission, the game ceased to be a contest. Tournament points leader Ryan Nugent-Hopkins gave his team some insurance, with his second goal in as many games assisted by Jonathan Huberdeau. The captain now has seven points through two games.
Seven minutes into the third, Ryan Strome scored his second goal of the day, tying himself with Scheifele for the tournament goal-scoring lead with three.
By the time of Strome's goal it was clear that the Slovakian challenge had ended. Slovakian goalie Adam Nagy failed to produce the same breathtaking performance that earned his team a point against Russia.
Despite the loss, Slovakia looks very dangerous and should continue to be an upset threat for the remainder of the tournament. They will face Germany on Dec. 30.
The Canadians will regroup and prepare for a crucial group B game against Team USA. The strong American team is likely to be Canada's toughest test to date and they will need to erase the many mistakes that have so far been overcome by their pure offensive talent.
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