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Team Canada yet to be tested with either Russia or North America ahead in semis

CityNews | posted Thursday, Sep 22nd, 2016

Team Canada's Logan Couture, right, celebrates his goal with teammate Jonathan Toews during third period World Cup of Hockey action against Team Europe in Toronto on Wednesday, September 21, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO – Jonathan Toews scored a pair of goals and added an assist as Team Canada easily rolled past Europe 4-1 on Wednesday evening in their final preliminary round game of the World Cup of Hockey.

Canada clinched Group A with the victory and will face either Team North America or Russia in the first semifinal on Saturday night.

Sidney Crosby and Logan Couture also scored and Corey Crawford made 19 saves.

Marian Hossa scored the only goal for Europe and Jaroslav Halak stood tall with 42 stops.

Heavy favourites entering the tournament, Canada has met expectations thus far, stomping three foes en route to the semis. They outscored the Czechs, Americans and Europeans by a combined 14-3, trailing only once and for less than two minutes. All but two players have produced at least a point, led by Crosby and Matt Duchene with four points apiece.

Victory has yet to be in doubt for the Canadians.

Whether the North Americans or Russians, the upcoming single elimination semifinal will present a much bigger challenge. Led by Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, North America is loaded with young fire and about the only team in the tournament with the speed to contend with Canada. The Russians, meanwhile, are flooded with dangerous offensive players, including captain Alex Ovechkin and Tampa Bay Lightning star Nikita Kucherov.

A win for Russia in their preliminary round finale with Finland on Thursday afternoon will seal a date with the Canadians.

The early surprise team of the World Cup, Europe just didn’t have the horses to run with Canada. Much like the two that preceded it, this game was not particularly close even if the scoreboard briefly suggested so.

The Canadians struck first four minutes into the opening period and led the rest of the way.

After winning an offensive zone faceoff, Crosby scooped up Alex Pietrangelo’s deflected point shot and zipped around the net for the wrap-around marker. It was his second goal of the tournament and looked similar to the first, in which Crosby swooped behind the Czech goal and fired a shot off netminder Michal Neuvirth.

Canada kept it coming, flooding Halak with shots and chances.

The European No. 1 goaltender withstood some of the onslaught and at one point late in the first frame stopped Marchand three times on the doorstep. Thirteen seconds later though, Halak’s clearing attempt found its way to Matt Duchene along the boards. Duchene spotted Toews, who slipped a shot into the European goal for the 2-0 lead.

Shots favoured Canada 17-4 after the first 20 minutes.

Crawford wasn’t tested much early, though Tobias Rieder did race in for a partial breakaway only to slide a backhand wide. It was the first and likely only start of the tournament for the 31-year-old Crawford, starting in place of Carey Price.

Canada opted to give Price, Shea Weber and Ryan Getzlaf the night off against Europe with all expected back in the weekend semifinal.

Surprising the United States with a 3-0 win in their World Cup opener, the Europeans pushed the Canadians some early in the second. They scored four-plus minutes into the frame on a weak shot from Hossa that slipped somehow under Crawford’s right leg.

That made it 2-1 for Canada, though tension was never really apparent. The Canadians upped the lead back to two about 10 minutes after the Hossa goal on the second of the night from Toews. He raced in for an odd-man rush with Couture before snapping a shot under the glove of Halak.

Couture added the fourth Canadian goal late in the period.

Canada outshot Europe 46-19, holding the lead for least 50 minutes in each of the first three games.

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