STOCKHOLM, Sweden — A lapse of concentration in their most recent game aside, the Canadians have melded into a contending team at the IIHF World Championship on little preparation.
Canada heads into Thursday’s quarter-final game with firepower on offence, an improving blue-line and goaltending capable of getting wins.
The quarter-final has been Canada’s stumbling block in this tournament with losses in the last three consecutive years.
“We realize that,” forward Steven Stamkos said. “The last three years, I think, have been early exits and it’s not going to get any easier.”
Canada awaits the conclusion of the preliminary round Tuesday to confirm its quarter-final opponent. Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban was added to the team Monday and will play in the quarter-final.
A 4-3 overtime win over relegated Slovenia on Monday gave Canada 18 points from five wins, an overtime win and a shootout loss in the round robin.
Unbeaten Switzerland was one point back with a game in hand. The Swiss need just a point Tuesday against Belarus to secure first place.
The top four countries in each group advance to the quarter-finals with one playing four and two facing three.
Host Sweden (4-2) will finish third in Canada’s pool. Tuesday’s game between the Czech Republic and Norway will determine the fourth quarter-finalist in Stockholm.
The United States, Finland and Russia will finish top four in Helsinki, but Tuesday will determine their seedings. The fourth and final playoff berth in that pool was still up for grabs between Slovakia, Germany, France and Latvia.
Because the NHL’s lockout-shortened regular season ended three weeks later than usual, this Canadian team had no training camp or exhibition games.
After three practices, and one of them the night they stepped off the plane, Canada was forced to become a team on the fly. They played seven games in 10 days during the round robin, including back-to-backs three times.
Canada’s team game improved each of the first five games. The sixth, Sunday’s 2-1 win over the Czech Republic, lacked the offensive fireworks of the previous games.
Canada would finish no worse than second in their pool Monday regardless of the outcome against Slovenia, ranked No. 18 in the world and already relegated to the second-tier world championship next year.
The Canadians sleepwalked through the first period and trailed by two goals against the Slovenians who came ready to compete.
Canada’s forwards are the strength of this team. Stamkos, twice the winner of the NHL’s goalscoring trophy, is a threat every time he steps on the ice. His overtime goal was his second of the game and sixth of the tournament.