Series: Team Europe (+1000) vs. Canada (-2500)
Game 1: Team Europe (+585) vs Canada (-820)
Going off at 33/1 odds to win the tournament at the outset, Team Europe has already exceeded any and all of the public’s expectations by making the finals of the World Cup of Hockey. Facing world superpower Canada, they’re still facing Herculean odds. If they hope to win the whole thing, they’ll have to knock off the Canadians not once, but twice, in a best-of-three finals starting tonight at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto (8:00 PM Eastern).
For many of Team Europe’s players, this is a dream come true. The amalgamation of eight nations who would never have a hope of beating Canada by themselves can, perhaps together, pull off one of the greatest upsets in hockey history. However, the formula to beating the unstoppable Canadians is a complicated one, and relies heavily on getting more superb goaltending from Jaroslav Halak.
The New York Islanders goalie has largely carried his team this far, stopping 142 of the 150 shots he’s faced over the first four games. Asking for more from Halak would seem unfair, but it will be necessary: Canada is averaging 44 shots a game this tournament. And these aren’t just any rubber biscuits flipped on net, these are some of the best scorers on the planet.
Meanwhile, Halak will be pitted against former Montreal teammate Carey Price at the other end. Price missed most of last NHL season with a knee injury, but his return to the crease has lived up to his lofty standards, stopping 92 of 97 shots over three games.
Led by Sidney Crosby (seven points in four games), the Canadians have only trailed for two minutes and 41 seconds this whole tournament, and have won their last 14 best-on-best tournament games dating back to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Canada also topped Europe 4-1 in the group stage, although it’s tough to gauge how motivated both teams were, given that they had already secured their spots in the semis.
Europe doesn’t have the firepower to get into a shootout with the Canadians, so like many teams before them, they’ll try and slow the game down and grind out a low-scoring affair, leaning on two-way forwards like Anze Kopitar, Mats Zuccarello, and Frans Nielsen. But with the best players in the world, it’s a strategy the Canadians can easily adapt to, as evidenced by their 1-0 win over the United States at the 2014 Sochi Games.
At such long odds, it may be worth it to put a little down on Europe pulling an upset in Game 1 or 2, but there’s no reason to think they can catch lightning in a bottle twice. Canada will win the series, probably pretty handily.
Pick: Canada (-2500).
Photo credit: the Kremlin.
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