Michael Traikos | National Post
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Cam Talbot was waiting for his turn to be interviewed when Matt Dumba was asked how good Canada’s goaltender had been in a 6-0 quarter-final win against Sweden in the world hockey championship on Thursday.
“Him?” Matt Dumba said motioning to Talbot. “This guy’s been a monster. This guy’s been sick and it’s been huge for us in this tournament.”
Dumba, who is 21 years old, clarified that “sick” meant good. But in a 4-0 loss to Finland two days earlier, you could have used the verb to mean the opposite to describe Talbot’s play.
That Talbot was even on the ice in a win-or-go-home game was not an easy decision for Canada’s coaching staff. Head coach Bill Peters had contemplated pulling Talbot against Finland and starting Calvin Pickard against Sweden. But Sean Burke said Talbot, who faced greater adversity in his first year as a No. 1 goalie with the Edmonton Oilers, would “bounce back.”
“For them to have the confidence to put me back there and knowing that I could come back and rebound like I did — that was a huge confidence boost for me,” said Talbot. “I just had to go in there and make it look like a good decision.”
The defending champions now travel to Moscow to play the United States, who defeated Czech Republic 2-1 in an overtime shootout, in the semifinal on Saturday. Canada defeated the U.S. 5-1 in the first game of the tournament, but since then 18-year-old Auston Matthews (five goals and eight points in eight games) has gained experience and confidence and could pose a bigger challenge.
“We kind of talked to each other after the game against them,” defenceman Morgan Rielly said of the U.S., “and told ourselves if we play them later in the tournament they’re going to be a different team, because they’re young but they’re talented.”
After being shut out at the world hockey championship for the first time in 10 years, Canada’s offence came alive against a Sweden team that was light on NHL talent. Still, this was more indicative of the kind of game Canada had been playing for most of the tournament, with Canada now having outscored its opponents 40-8.
Six different players scored against Sweden, with Mark Scheifele and Mark Stone each finishing with a goal and two assists. Talbot, who had allowed four goals against Finland on Tuesday, made 24 saves for his third shutout.
“They showed that they’re a size too big for us,” said Swedish goalie Jacob Markstron, who plays for the Vancouver Canucks. “It’s a little bit embarrassing.”
While the offence made Talbot’s job easier, it could have been a different story had he allowed another soft goal or two like he did against Finland. Instead, he was sharp when he needed to be. With the game scoreless, Talbot made a big glove save on a point shot from Mattias Ekholm and then slid across to rob Jimmie Ericsson.
“I think when he made that save you could tell he was sharp,” said Rielly. “That goes a long way on the bench. When the goalie is playing well, all the team has confidence and it helps.”
Minutes after that save, Scheifele redirected a shot from Ryan O’Reilly to give Canada a 1-0 lead with 1:21 remaining in the first period. Goals from Matt Dumba, Brad Marchand and Max Domi made it 4-0 after two periods. And Stone and Derick Brassard added two more in the third period.
Sweden was so desperate for some offence that when Canada took back-to-back penalties, head coach Par Marts pulled his goalie with about 14 minutes remaining in the third period for a 6-on-3 man-advantage. It was a strange move that looked even stranger after Sweden was forced to leave its goalie out for nearly two more minutes after the penalties expired while waiting for a whistle.
“You don’t see that too often,” said Talbot, smiling.
“Something had to happen,” said Markstrom. “Nothing was happening. We had to score goals.“
For a Canadian team that always lives and dies by its goaltender at these events, the challenge for Talbot is to ride this play for two more games. Winning a gold medal would put a positive spin on what was a difficult first season in Edmonton, where he went 21-27-3 with a .917 save percentage for the second-worst team in the league.
At the very least, it would quiet his critics until the start of next season.
“It definitely helps moving forward,” he said, talking about his difficult first season as a starter in Edmonton. “I know every starting goalie goes through ups and downs throughout a season, I think it’s how you come out of them is how you show your true colours. I think I learned a lot about myself this year and hopefully I can continue that moving forward.”