HELSINKI - Why can't Canada win this game?
Again. And again. And again.
Three consecutive world hockey championships and now three consecutive failed attempts to make it to the medal round.
Why does it keep happening?
At the past three world junior championships, Canada either has lost in the final or in a semifinal.
Why are we suddenly losing so many one-off medal-round games?
"It's frustrating," Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said Thursday.
"You look at our quarterfinal loss to Slovakia and the same game last year against the Russians and we outplayed them both in those games but we didn't win.
"The quarterfinal is a different game than the round-robin games and obviously we have to get better at playing them.
"I still really believe in our players. We have great players. We had more Stanley Cup champions and Olympic champions than any other team here. We didn't have to beg them to come. They wanted to be here. And I think they were well-coached.
"But we really have to look at this. I don't know if we'll find anything, but if it's there, its critical that we find it."
Team Canada general manager Kevin Lowe had a theory Thursday after watching the team he put together lose 4-3 to Slovakia in a quarterfinal.
"European teams are now playing Canada as defensively as possible," Lowe said.
"They're saying 'We can't beat these guys unless we play a system with as few mistakes as possible.' There's a fine line when it comes down to allowing creativity. We don't want to stop allowing it. But it seems like we keep giving the opportunities to the teams we're playing ... while they're playing robotic hockey against us.
"(The Slovaks) had no business being in the game.
"They had a far inferior hockey team. They had a game plan which they were sticking to and they got the win.
"There's a fine line at this level about playing like robots."
Lowe said perhaps future managers and coaches should insist on the Canadian players sticking to a structure and squeezing the life out of the game, "waiting for specific moments for skill level to make the difference."
He said the Canadians were hurt by mistakes that were made 200 feet from the net.
"We should have been up by two going into the third period. And not being able to score on the five-on-three in the second period really ended up hurting us."
Lowe said losing a sudden-death game coming off round-robin play is difficult to deal with when players are used to best-of-seven series.
"You have to elevate your game. Every play is magnified," he said.
"But, hey, the other nations are good. We're not going to win all the time."
At the end of the day he said he couldn't criticize much.
"I thought the coaching staff and the players did a good job."
But for a third year in a row they didn't get the job done.
And the bottom line is the loss means the nation which won gold at Vancouver 2010 will not be able to improve on the IIHF No. 5 ranking to take to the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Coach Brent Sutter went 28 games coaching Canada internationally without losing a game in regulation. But when he got to the quarterfinal, he fared no better than Craig MacTavish or Ken Hitchcock did in the go-for-gold or go-home game at this tournament the previous two years.
"We were up 3-2 with seven minutes to go in the game," Sutter said. "You've got to close the deal. We didn't.
"When we look back on this, we beat ourselves. In the last seven minutes we got caught by things we talked about all through the tournament. We did the things we didn't want to do.
"We have to leave here and learn from this. Our standard when it came to certain things dropped off. We got into discipline problems."
Hockey Canada definitely needs to start doing debriefings with these teams to find out why suddenly a nation which won five world juniors in a row and the Vancouver 2010 Olympics isn't seizing these moments and grabbing these games by the throat.