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AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

INNSBRUCK, Austria -- The Team Canada players were universal in their assurances. Their 2-1 win over Ukraine yesterday, they said, was the last of their lacklustre performances.

Now, the world championship format changes to single-game elimination and the Canadians say they will rise to the occasion, starting with their quarter-final game against Slovakia tomorrow.

If they don't, they will be out of contention in a hurry.

They were 10-1 favourites yesterday, but needed a third-period goal from Rick Nash -- his tournament-leading ninth -- and a couple of fine saves from Martin Brodeur to lock up the win.

"It sure wasn't our finest, no question," Team Canada captain Ryan Smyth said after the terminally tedious performance. "But I believe you go through a little adversity in these tournaments."

A touch-and-go game with a bunch of Ukrainians, not one of whom plays in the National Hockey League, certainly qualifies as adversity.

So does a goal from Robyn Regehr -- when it beats Brodeur.

And, as always, the officiating had its curious moments.

But the question that many Canadian fans can't help asking is: So what?

So there was a bit of adversity. It's Ukraine, not the NHL all-star team. Shouldn't Canada be able to roll over these guys no matter how trying the circumstances might be?

That's a more difficult question to answer than it might seem. The Ukrainians also played Sweden tough, losing 3-2. They tied the U.S. 1-1. They play a defence-first style, get good goaltending and don't think twice about icing the puck to ease the pressure.

As for territorial advantage, the Canadians held a whopping edge yesterday. But they missed a couple of golden opportunities and on other occasions, goaltender Konstantyn Simchuk played brilliantly.

"In the first, we weren't very happy with our effort," defenceman Dan Boyle said. "But anyone who saw the game in the second and third, we were pretty much in their end the whole time.

'IT WASN'T PRETTY'

"It wasn't pretty. The passes weren't stick-to-stick. The shots were kind of off-key. It's just a matter of clicking as we're accustomed to. We were in their zone pretty much the whole (game). It was just a matter of finishing them off and we didn't."

On occasion, the Ukrainians would mount a flurry. They got a goal when a routine shot heading wide of the net bounced off Regehr's leg and into the goal, tying the score after Brendan Morrison had put the Canadians in front.

But for the most part, Ukraine sat back and played rope-a-dope hockey, weathering attack after attack and staying in the game.

In typical fashion, Brodeur managed to put a light-hearted slant on the proceedings. "It kind of defeats the purpose of the big ice surface and no red line," he said. "But I can't say anything because I've had a lot of success playing defence where I play."

Smyth managed to put it all into perspective. "It's a tough game to play when they sit back and the intensity is not driven up as much as you'd like it to be," he said.

"But hey, we won. That's the bottom line. We've got too much character in that locker room to let this thing roll over and die. We got a lot of great youth and a lot of guys who want to win right now and that's what's important."


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