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Ice hockey: Canada braces for low-scoring knockout phase

Canada's Drew Doughty laughs with Finland's goalie Tuukka Rask after Canada defeated Finland in overtime in their men's preliminary round ic
Canada's Drew Doughty laughs with Finland's goalie Tuukka Rask after Canada defeated Finland in overtime in their men's preliminary round ic

By Frank Pingue

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Canada have not shown the offensive firepower many expected from such a talented group of forwards and the men's ice hockey team at the Sochi Games do not sound like they expect much to change.

The defending gold medalists secured a bye to the quarter-finals after a 2-1 overtime win over Finland on Sunday in a tight defensive battle that lacked emotion and flow.

"The best thing for us is what happened yesterday, our players know this is what we're in for," Canadian head coach Mike Babcock told reporters on Monday.

"That's what the game is. If we think we're getting seven, we're watching the wrong sport. It's gonna be 2-1."

Heading into the tournament, many critics suggested the North American brand of ice hockey was not well suited for larger international-size ice surfaces.

The Canadians have won the puck possession battle in each of their games but, despite spending plenty of time in the opposing team's zone, have been unable to create lots of chances.

"It's not easy to get to the middle. The European teams clog it up pretty good and usually have five guys in the middle of the ice," said Jeff Carter, who leads all Canadian forwards with three goals in Sochi.

"It's all about your compete level, battle and try to create space and get pucks in the net.

"We've played three games now and it's been drilled into our heads we need to get off the wall and try to make the ice as small as we can make it."

Defensemen have accounted for six of Canada's 11 goals during the three-game preliminary round. Canada beat minnows Norway 6-0 in an out-of-sorts opener before recording a 3-1 win over Austria and edging Finland in overtime.

BALANCE

Canadian captain Sidney Crosby, one of the world's top players, recorded two points in three preliminary round games, both coming as a result of secondary assists.

But the 26-year-old, who scored the gold-medal winning overtime goal at the 2010 Vancouver Games, is not about to change his approach for the quarter-finals.

"By forcing something, you are going to dig a puck out of your net because you're forcing something that's not there," said Crosby.

"There's a balance between taking what's given to you and making sure you're going after them and not sitting back."

Canada's next opponent will be the winner of Tuesday's qualifier between Switzerland and Latvia.

The Swiss are favored to advance and would carry plenty of confidence into a quarter-final game having already earned two shutout wins in the preliminaries and losing 1-0 to a Swedish team that are among the favorites for the gold medal.

The Swiss play a tight brand of ice hockey and would no doubt be looking to keep the score close rather then get into a offensive showdown with Canada.

Canada will know what to expect from the Swiss, having lost 2-0 to them in the group stage of the 2006 Turin Games and grinding out a 3-2 victory in 2010.

"Some guys on the team are used to putting up three points a night and when that doesn't happen, you can't get too frustrated," said Canadian forward Rick Nash.

"You look at all these teams and all these teams are great teams with the best players from their own countries. You're more worried about the team having success than your individual success."

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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