A point well-taken

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

INNSBRUCK -- If all the Team Canada performances over the years were ranked, yesterday's would be a lot closer to the bottom than to the top.

Mental errors, foolish penalties, sloppy play and weak goaltending all played a part as Canada had to pull out all the stops to gain a 3-3 tie against Finland.

As a work of art, it was weak to say the least, and as far as providing a result is concerned, it was barely satisfactory.

Canada needed a tie to all but guarantee second place in the pool, and assuming a victory against Ukraine tomorrow, that's all they got.

Second place means not only a better schedule in the next round, but also better travel. Canada can now stay in Innsbruck, whereas the third- and fourth-place teams have to travel to Vienna.

Yet despite the litany of complaints about Canada's performance, there was one positive aspect that may, over time, prove to outweigh all the negatives. Once the Canadians fell behind 3-1 in the third period, and all their fans were anticipating a loss, they redoubled their efforts and fought back.

There had been no indication that this was coming. The Finns had opened the scoring on Niklas Hagman's long wrist shot that went between Scott Hannan's legs.

It would have been easy for goaltender Roberto Luongo to blame the screen, but he wouldn't make the excuse.

"I still got a nice look at it," he said. "It kind of handcuffed me and was a goal I would have liked to have back.

"I'm very critical of myself," Luongo added. "The other two weren't bad goals, but if you look at your game there's always something you say you could have done. They were both one-timers, but there are just some times when you know there are ones you can stop and you know when there are ones you can do nothing about."

A less critical observer would not have fingered Luongo as a culprit on the other goals. Jukka Hentunen scored from the slot with all the time in the world and although Wade Redden fired a wicked shot from the blue line that beat Niklas Backstrom cleanly, he and Danny Boyle then handled the puck like it was a curling stone to enable Tomi Kallio to make it 3-1.

"We quit playing a little bit after the third goal," said Finnish captain Olli Jokkinen. "But on the other hand, the Canadian guys were coming a lot harder. After we got the third one, they were forcing it really hard."

The incredible Rick Nash got the Canadians back to within one goal. Standing on the edge of the crease -- no surprise there -- he picked the rebound of Simon Gagne's shot out of the air and whacked it into the net.

There are few players in the world who could react quickly enough to make contact with that puck. Even fewer would make decent contact. Nash hit the puck dead centre and sent it back towards the net faster than it had come out.

Then, with a little more than 10 minutes left, Patrick Marleau showed off his talents, one-timing Brenden Morrow's setup past Backstrom.

"It was a big point for us," said coach Marc Habscheid, whose team was playing an afternoon game after a night game he said "was tough for us, emotionally and physically.

"I thought, as the game went on, we got better. We went down 3-1 and the guys found a way to gut it out.

"That's a big point. Finland is a good team, very structured, and the guys found a way work back and find a point."

It was far from a good performance, but over the years, we've seen Canadian teams do this before, then come back to win a tournament on heart and grit.

Team Canada played poorly yesterday but in the long run, it may be more important that they proved to be in possession of those two crucial commodities.


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