From a disallowed goal to a penalty kill in the final minutes, Team Canada didn't enjoy a lot of easy moments in beating Norway 3-2.
But that's exactly how coach Dave Tippett wanted it, as his team got the regulation victory it needed Tuesday to finish first in Group A at the world hockey championship.
"We played well, and I like that we got pushed right to the end," Tippett said. "If it would've been a 5-1 or 6-1 game, maybe you get into bad habits, you just kind of float through it. This pushed us as a team, and the harder you get pushed as a team the better you get in a short amount of time. I like the fact that we won the game, obviously, but I like the fact that it was a close game."
It was close because Norway took the lead, and then Canada had a would-be goal by Kevin Bieksa waved off for goaltender interference because Jonathan Huberdeau had his stick in the crease. And it remained close even after Joel Ward scored the second of his two goals, the eventual game winner, midway through the third because Norway didn't go away.
Canada outshot Norway 42-16 and only beat goaltender Steffen Soberg three times, on Ward's two on the power play and Mark Scheifele's at even strength. Meanwhile, James Reimer gave up goals to Anders Bastiansen and Mads Hansen that came about from defensive miscues but still improved to 3-0-1 in the tournament.
"This is one of those games where you really just have to grind it out and battle because they protect so well, they collapse so well, and sometimes you just pass the puck around the outside but you can't really get to the good scoring areas," Reimer said. "I think we're just happy to grind this one out."
Canada, which finished the preliminary round with 18 points and a 6-0-1 record, will face Finland in the quarter-final round Thursday. Along the way, the Canadians outscored opponents 28-13, and their only blemish was a shootout loss to France.
Tippett seemed pleased with his team's progression to this point.
"Most of our players didn't play for three weeks and as you get back into game shape, your game starts to elevate," he said. "Every game our players continue to pick up a step."
While Canada waited to find out its quarter-final opponent, finishing first in the group assured it of avoiding powerhouse Russia until a potential gold-medal game Sunday. The United States, led by Tyler Johnson and Seth Jones, could wind up on Canada's side of the bracket, pending the result of Russia-Belarus on Tuesday night.
The chance to pass Sweden for first place almost slipped away Tuesday against Norway at Chizhovka-Arena. Canada fell behind on a power-play goal by Bastiansen and then had to overcome some frustration later in the first.
It looked like Bieksa scored a power-play goal at the 15:01 mark, but it was waved off apparently because Huberdeau had his stick in the crease. Tippett said the referee wouldn't come over to explain the decision, which seemed to stem from the IIHF rule that an attacking player cannot have even his stick blade in the crease when the puck goes into the net.
"I didn't think my skate was in the crease. I guess it was the stick," Huberdeau said. "I don't know the call, but it was the call and you can't do anything. It's not a big deal."
It would've been a much bigger deal had it cost Canada the chance to win in regulation. But with seven power plays, including five after Bieksa's goal was disallowed, there were plenty of opportunities to keep it from being the reason for a loss.
"We were not going to let one call ruin the whole day for us," said Ward, who now has six goals and is tied with teammate Cody Hodgson and France's Antoine Roussel for second in the tournament behind Russia's Viktor Tikhonov.
Canada managed to grind away at Norway enough, and Tippett had special praise for the fourth line of Ward, Scheifele and Sean Monahan.
"We had lots of opportunities, but [the Norwegians]kept the game very tight," Tippett said. "They did a good job penalty-killing against us, and I was proud of our guys to just keep pushing, not get frustrated and hopefully we'd find the chances we needed to win."
Once they did, the Canadians could start to look ahead to elimination play.
"Get some playoffs going here," Reimer said. "To get going to the quarter-finals here, I think we're jelling well as a team. We have some good chemistry. Hopefully things bode well in the playoffs."