Canada and France took to the ice in the first game of the 2014 World Championships. With Canada winning 7-2 in the last meeting between the two countries, there wasn’t a lot of debate on who the favourite was heading into the contest on Friday. Regardless, Canada knew they can’t take anyone easy (Latvia, anyone?), and that was proven as the French were able to come home with one of the biggest upsets in recent IIHF history with a 3-2 shootout victory.
Toronto Maple Leafs fans may be used to hearing this, but James Reimer looked incredible early after a resilient French offense pestered the oft-criticized goaltender with many solid scoring chances early. The Canadian defense was beginning to struggle, with many of the players seeing the ice for a limited time since mid April. At the halfway mark, France had the 6-4 shot advantage, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering how Canada tends to struggle when switching to the big ice in any international competition.
Former NHL All-Star Cristobal Huet wasn’t forced to face a lot of action in the early stages of the first, but he did make some nice saves once the game began to play out further. Once a popular figure at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Huet’s toe save on a great opportunity in front against Kyle Turris proved to be the best of the period to keep the game scoreless. Shortly after, with the period set to come to a close in a few minutes, Ottawa Senators forward Stephane Da Costa converted a French power-play into the first goal of the game, beating Reimer with a wrist shot blocker side to make it 1-0 France. Canada was able to tie it up in the dying seconds of the first, however, as Brayden Schenn’s first World Championship goal beat Huet, who was sitting a little too far back into his net.
Canada would start to lay down the law in the second, but Huet would have nothing of it. After facing a lot more action throughout the middle frame, Huet made what could be save of the tournament with a diving glove save on Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly. Patient passing by Nathan MacKinnon created the scoring chance for Canada, but the former Stanley Cup winning puckstopper with the Chicago Blackhawks wouldn’t allow the puck to get past him and surrender the tiebreak.
Frustrations started to take their toll in the final minutes of the period. Unable to get anything past Huet, Canada went down two men for the last part of the second period. France wasn’t able to snag the lead heading into the change room, but Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s shot from the left side was easily their best opportunity of the period, only to have Reimer stop it with his right foot.
One of the men who started the period in the box was Washington Capitals forward Troy Brouwer. Just seconds after getting back on the ice, Huet’s former teammate took a second penalty which gave France their second straight 5-on-3 power-play of the contest. The France were unable to get anything past Reimer and would eventually surrender the pressure to the Canadians. The effort wouldn’t be wasted for Canada, as Erik Gudbranson’s rebound attempt to the right of Huet barely squeaked below the blocker and trickled over the line to give Canada the 2-1 lead with nine minutes to go.
Penalty trouble would still plague the Canadians. With Jason Garrison in the box for slashing, Da Costa scored his second of the game after converting a poor Braydon Coburn turnover into the tying goal with 7:25 to go in the game. The goal would be a major one for the French, who would force Canada to play overtime to see who would take home two points heading into the weekend.
Overtime solved nothing. It didn’t matter what Canada did, Huet wasn’t letting anything past him. The game would require a shootout to decide the victor, where Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s goal would be the death of the Canadians as France was able to win just their second ever game against Canada in the history of the World Championships.
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