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Hockey: Canada won’t dare think of another US loss

ALAN ROBINSON
AP Sports Writer

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Canada dares not even think about losing.

The men’s hockey team settling for silver in its own sport in its own Olympics? No, no and no.

That possibility sends shivers through the 33 million residents of the world’s most hockey-obsessed nation. Especially when as many as half of them are expected to be watching, expecting a victory over the upstart Americans in Sunday’s gold-medal game.

Last Sunday, the U.S. won 5-3 to close out the preliminary round, and a repeat victory would deny Canada the one gold medal the nation most wants to win.

“I haven’t thought about that – I’ve been thinking about what we have to do to win,” Sidney Crosby said Saturday. “The past doesn’t matter, or who the favorite or who the underdog is, it makes no difference right now.”

Crosby’s linemate, Jarome Iginla, said, “We’re not thinking like that at all.”

Both teams portray the other as the favorite, but Babcock doesn’t sound all that persuasive when arguing the U.S. is the team to beat. He wants his players displaying the confidence they’ve shown while winning three in a row since the U.S. loss.

Though his kids love “Miracle,” the movie about the 1980 U.S. Olympic team’s monumental upset of the Soviet Union, the Red Wings coach is not such a big fan – if only because the U.S. can win its first hockey gold medal since those Lake Placid Games on Sunday.

To prevent that, the Canadians are determined to keep the U.S. from getting off to the jump start it did while taking a 4-2 lead last week, even while being outshot 2-to-1. Canada came back to blow out Germany 8-2 and Russia 7-3, although it was more patient and reactive while edging Slovakia 3-2 in the semifinals Friday.

“As the tournament’s went on, we’ve gotten our starts up, too, and we’ve been able to rev it up and be ready to go early,” Iginla said. “We know they’re a good skating club. They came out and did that early the last game. We’ll be ready for that – and be ready to do it ourselves.”

What Canada can’t afford is for the Crosby line – the current configuration is Eric Staal, Crosby and Iginla – to be a minus-3 like it was against the U.S., even while scoring a goal. Crosby has three goals in Vancouver, but he hasn’t been the dynamic player he often is in Pittsburgh, where he won the Stanley Cup last season.

“It’s a second chance. The first time we had them, and we didn’t get it done,” Babcock said. “We get a second chance, and we’d like to make good on that.”

Goalie Roberto Luongo also can’t allow two late goals like he did against Slovakia. Babcock won’t truly know whether the enormous gamble he took by benching goalie Martin Brodeur following the U.S. loss and playing Luongo was successful until Sunday.

Luongo plans to treat the biggest game of his life as if it were another night in the NHL – even if the only comparable game might be a Stanley Cup Game 7.

“It’s a North American style, North-South game – they’re going to throw bodies at the net, take shots from the points and (have) screens and tips and all that stuff,” he said. “It’s NHL-style hockey, and it’s not anything I haven’t seen before.”

Even if a goalie who has never advanced past the second round of the NHL playoffs hasn’t seen a game quite like this. Or felt such pressure. Or had his career judged by a single game.

“It’s very similar (to a Game 7) for sure but, at the same time, what you have to do is pretty clear,” Crosby said. “You go out there and put everything you have in it.”

Defenseman Chris Pronger, like Crosby, will talk only about must be done to win, not how it would feel to lose to the same rival for the second time on home ice. A loss that would stay with any player for the rest of his career.

“Just being a part of it isn’t enough, you get to that point you want to win, you want to close the deal and finish them off,” Pronger said. “It’s the last step. We know they are going to come out hard. We want to come out just as hard if not harder than we did against the Russians.”


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