Streaking Canadians to face Team Europe in World Cup finals
TORONTO (AP) Sidney Crosby and the Canadians look as if they can't be stopped.
Canada has won 14 straight games in best-on-best hockey tournaments since losing to the U.S. in the preliminary round of the Vancouver Games in 2010.
Like the Americans in Olympic basketball, the Canadians simply seem as if they're on another level against the rest of the world.
Team Europe, though, hopes to spoil Canada's plans to celebrate a World Cup of Hockey title on home ice.
The eight-nation European team and the one country that everyone else is trying to catch will face off Tuesday night in Game 1 of a best-of-three series.
Europe advanced to the finals by beating Sweden 3-2 in overtime Sunday.
It opened the event created by the NHL and NHL Players' Association by stunning the U.S. and beating the Czech Republic before losing to Canada 4-1 in the preliminary round.
''They're a great story, and shame on us if we don't take them serious for what they've done to this point,'' Canada general manager Doug Armstrong said.
The surprise team of the tournament is made up of NHL players, many of them stars, who wouldn't have much of a shot to beat the best hockey teams in the world if they were playing for their individual countries: Slovakia, Switzerland, Slovenia, Germany, Austria, France, Norway and Denmark.
''I'd like to begin by thanking the NHL and the NHLPA for creating Team Europe and for giving us this opportunity,'' said Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger, whose day job is being the chairman of an England-based soccer team in the Premier League. ''The second organization I need to thank is Southampton Football Club.''
The Canadians earned a spot in the finals by beating Russia 5-3 on Saturday night.
Canada coach Mike Babcock, who leads the Toronto Maple Leafs, has seemed to make all the right moves during the team during its stretch of dominance in this decade.
His job will be to make sure the favored and host Canadians do not underestimate a team they'll be expected to beat if not rout.
''You put all those countries together, there's lots of good players there,'' Babcock said. ''I like their backend, I like the goaltending. I think they've done a real good job through the middle of the rink with their team. They've got a good-looking team. That's why you play these games. All the experts can predict what they want, but you got to play the games and decide.''
Some critics thought it was a joke to put a team together with players from eight nations instead of picking two of them, perhaps Slovakia and Switzerland, to round out the eight-team tournament.
No one seems to be saying that anymore.
Canada appears to have a clear edge with its skaters, a slew of star forwards and defensemen, but the goaltenders seem to be evenly matched. Hockey is a sport in which one player - if he's in net - can neutralize a superior team.
Slovakian and New York Islander goalie Jaroslav Halak has been as impressive as any player in the tournament, other than Crosby, who has a World Cup-high seven points.
Canada will counter with Carey Price, who has overcome concerns about his right knee injury that kept him of the Montreal Canadiens' lineup for much of last season. Price was the No. 1 goalie for the Canadians when they repeated as Olympic champions two years ago.
''I don't want to say rivalry, but both guys know who's at the other end,'' said Armstrong, the St. Louis Blues' GM, who used to have Halak on his team. ''We're very comfortable with our goalie, and I know they're very comfortable with their goalie, so it should be very interesting.''
Follow Larry Lage at www.twitter.com/larrylage and follow his work at www.bigstory.ap.org/content/larry-lage