Ryan Getzlaf was back in his comfort zone.
With the possibility of an upset hanging in the air at Hartwall Arena, the Canadian captain came through in the clutch Wednesday by scoring the winning goal in a 3-2 victory over Switzerland. Until that moment, his IIHF World Hockey Championship experience had been marred by Finnish media reports of an altercation in a Helsinki bar — Getzlaf called them “overblown” — but the big goal put the focus back where it belongs.
“It's a great relief,” said Getzlaf. “I'm glad that's all past us and we can just keep playing. Our main focus here has always been hockey and always will be.”
There were a number of issues that made it tough for Getzlaf to focus on hockey during his first week in Europe. The big centre was a step behind his teammates after missing the pre-tournament exhibition games in Switzerland. Then his wife fell ill and he had to return home within days of arriving.
It helps explain the exuberant fist pump he let out after skating into the Swiss zone and hammering a shot past Tobias Stephan from the top of the right circle for his first goal of the tournament.
Coach Brent Sutter was left hoping it's a sign of things to come.
“We need Getz to be good for us and that was certainly a huge goal for us at a critical time,” said Sutter. “We know he can get better and improve. He's fighting through some adversity a little bit as far as just finding his timing in the game.”
John Tavares and Jordan Eberle also had goals while Cam Ward made 28 saves for Canada (3-0-1).
Damien Brunner and Goran Bezina replied Switzerland (2-2-0).
It was a typically tight game against the Swiss, who have proven to be a tough opponent for Canada on the international stage since an upset victory at the 2006 Olympics in Turin. The outcome was in doubt right until the final horn once again.
“History speaks for itself,” said Sutter. “When the Swiss national team plays Team Canada it's always a hard-fought, tough game. ... It was a tough game here tonight.”
The Canadians didn't do themselves any favours by failing to convert on four power-play opportunities in the opening 40 minutes. As a result, the score was tied 1-1 heading into the final period.
Eberle changed that quickly, finishing off a nice individual rush with a backhander over Stephan at 41 seconds. He's found success while playing alongside Tavares and Jeff Skinner — a change that was made after he was split up from Edmonton Oilers teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins following a loss to the U.S.
“We talked about it with them when we broke them up, they've actually been better since then,” Sutter said. “I look at Ebs' game tonight — he chipped pucks out, he chipped pucks in — he played smart, intelligent hockey and got rewarded because of it.”
Bezina tied things up three minutes after Eberle scored, but Getzlaf got the winner at 8:02. The Swiss, playing for the second time in as many nights, weren't able to find one more goal.
They've been given a tough schedule at this event with three sets of back-to-back games in the round robin.
“One team on both sides of the tournament has the rough end of the schedule and we got it on this side,” said Canadian-born coach Sean Simpson. “But we can't use it as an excuse.”
There was very little evidence of fatigue early on.
Brunner, a free agent who is drawing interest from NHL teams, gave the vocal gathering of Swiss fans a jolt when he scored just 1:40 into the game. The puck landed right on his stick after bouncing off a Canadian player.
Tavares tied it 1-1 just 35 seconds into the middle period when Eberle's shot deflected in off his skate. It gave him 14 world championship goals in just 18 career games for Canada.
The games will only get tougher from here on out and the players will be searching for a way to draw closer together and start playing more as a unit.
“It's progressing,” said Canadian forward Andrew Ladd. “The issues the first couple games were defensively — we were still figuring out what we wanted to do. I think we've gotten strong in that area every game since then.
“I still think there's more there to give, but we're heading in the right direction.”
Added Sutter: “We still have some improvement to do.”
Notes: Canadian forward Alex Burrows sat out his third straight game after suffering a concussion in the tournament opener. He could return Friday against Finland ... Ward earned an assist on Getzlaf's goal ... Duncan Keith played a team-high 26:03 for Canada ... Tavares had five shots on goal ... Switzerland's lone victory over Canada at the world championship came in 2010 ... Announced attendance was 4,589.
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