Another classic Canada-Russia clash is set for tomorrow night at the ACC in a win-or-go-home World Cup of Hockey semi-final. While Canada’s depth, defence and goaltending give them a clear edge, we all know you can’t sleep on the Russians for a second. It will require a 60 minute effort, meaning Canada needs to eliminate the lapses seen in the 2nd period against Europe and late in the third against the US.
Some other World Cup thoughts:
The format produced hockey that was much better than expected
Fans were right to be skeptical of the Team Europe and North America entries, but this format produced a far more competitive tournament, that cannot be questioned. The excitement produced by the under-23 North Americans stole the show, and perhaps took some of the spotlight and pressure off Team Canada. Even though they’d still qualify to be on the North American roster under current rules, I believe Connor McDavid et al should be allowed to play for their respective countries in 2020. The NHL can easily resolve this by stating you can only play once for the under-23 team, or make it an under-22 team. I’m not sure the 2020 version will be as successful as this one given the number of “generational” talents available this year, but with tweaking the concept has obviously shown merit going forward.
Leafs fans have lots to be excited about based on what they’ve seen
Auston Matthews showed he can compete and succeed against the best in the world, and that is incredibly heartening. He has shown he can be a difference maker, and could have a bigger impact than hoped for in his upcoming rookie season. Morgan Rielly was an anchor on the blueline for Team North America at both ends of the ice as well, and Nikita Zaitsev has been solid on defence for Russia. Heck, even Milan Michalek scored twice against the Americans. On the flip side, Leaf fans must hope the disappointing results from Teams USA and Finland don’t negatively impact JVR and Leo Komarov going into the upcoming season.
BLUE JAYS: THE LAST (HOME)STAND
The Blue Jays begin a seven-game stretch at Rogers Centre against the Yankees and Orioles tonight. They lead the Tigers by a game and Orioles by 1 1/2 games in the race for the two wild card berths. But with Houston, Seattle and the Yankees are still lurking, the Jays are going to need to take advantage of this last homestand before going to Boston for the final weekend of the season. At 83-69, the Jays will likely need to win 5 of their remaining games to guarantee a tie, and 6 to clinch a wild card berth. It means they likely need to win at least one in Boston next weekend, a scenario all too similar to that year I won’t mention here. The Blue Jays are a much better team at home than on the road, although scoring runs at Fenway has not been a problem for this team the past two seasons. They do get a break in that they won’t see Masahiro Tanaka in the Yankees series as he’s dealing with arm troubles.
The problem, however, is this: with so many teams bunched so close, the possibility of one of them winning 8 or even 9 of their last 10 games and leapfrogging the Jays is higher than it perhaps has been in other years. They certainly can’t rely on other teams to help them – they must take care of their own business to make the playoffs, it’s that simple. As Fox’s Ken Rosenthal points out, John Gibbons tenure in Toronto may very well depend on whether they do just that.