Analysis

Shaky wins against China should serve as wake-up call for Canada's men's hockey team

Should Canada win an Olympic medal in men's hockey, the team should send flowers and thank-you cards to the players on Team China for giving them a serious run in the qualifying round.

Will play Sweden in quarter-finals on Wednesday

Team Canada forward Adam Tambellini scores on a penalty shot past Team China goaltender Paris O'Brien during a 7-2 win on Tuesday that sends Canada to the quarter-finals against Sweden. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Should Canada win an Olympic medal in men's hockey, the team should send flowers and thank-you cards to the players on Team China for giving them a serious run in the qualifying round.

China reminded Canada on Tuesday of the dangers of defensive miscues. And China gave Canada a chance to work on its special teams — both the power play and penalty kill — in a pressure-filled game with so much on the line.

China also peppered Matt Tomkins with 29 shots to silence a simmering goaltending controversy and establish the Sherwood Park, Alta., product as the starting netminder for Wednesday's quarter-final against Sweden. Puck drop is at 8:30 a.m. ET.

The student, in many ways, became the teacher on Tuesday with the 7-2 score, in favour of Canada, not indicative of China's performance.

"Give them respect," Tomkins said. "It was another challenging game for us. They came out flying and had a lot of chances early and put us on our heels a bit."

A bit? That's an understatement, considering China busted through the Canadian defence on two clear-cut breakaways and Spencer Foo earned a penalty shot — that Tomkins repelled — in the game's first six minutes.

WATCH | Tambellini leads Canada into quarter-finals:

Tambellini explodes for 5 points to push Canada into quarters

6 months ago
Duration 4:34
Adam Tambellini posted two goals and three assists in Canada's 7-2 win over China in men's hockey.

Call it a much-needed wake-up call for a Canadian side that's predominantly underwhelmed through four Olympic appearances.

"We've got to give them a lot of credit," Team Canada centre Adam Tambellini said of the host nation. "They pushed really hard. They had us on our heels at times.

"I really liked the way our group was resilient and pushed through."

Sizing up Canada after back-to-back wins against China

It's difficult to get a read on Team Canada based on back-to-back wins over China. After all, China is ranked 32nd in the hockey world.

WATCH | Canada shuts down China in last game of round robin:

Highlights: Canada shuts out China in men's hockey

6 months ago
Duration 4:50
Canada finished the Preliminary Round in second place at 2-1 after a 5-0 win over China.
The Chinese players belong to the state-owned Kunlun Red Star, which is dead last in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League with just nine wins this season in 48 games. Eighteen of 25 China players were born or raised in North America — many of them with Chinese ancestry.

"I don't think it's really hit me yet that the Olympics are over, but I guess I'm really happy that we managed to fight until the end," said Cory Kane, who scored both goals for China. "It's really hard when you know you're going up against a big opponent like Canada. And our guys didn't quit."

They didn't quit, even when goalie Jeremy Smith crumpled to the ice with a leg injury stretching to make a save in the dying moments of the first period. Television cameras later showed medics wheeling the starting netminder out of the dressing room on a stretcher en route to the hospital.

Team China goaltender Jeremy Smith (45) is helped off the ice by teammates An Jian (47) and Jake Chelios (7) on Tuesday. Television cameras later showed medics wheeling the Smith out of the dressing room on a stretcher en route to the hospital. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

And to their credit, the Canadians didn't quit either. Tambellini — a third-generation Olympian — led the way with two goals and five points.

"It's fun," Tambellini said. "It's nice that our power play was really clicking, and I think it was good that we hit our stride at the right time here.

"I really like the way our group is playing right now. Sweden is a different competition and something we need to prepare for really quick here."

WATCH | Full replay of Canada vs. China qualifier:

Onwards to Sweden

The Swedes are likely still smarting after surrendering a 3-0 lead and losing 4-3 in overtime to rival Finland to close out the round robin.

Sweden is a physical, punishing team built for the NHL-sized ice in Beijing. Offensively, Lucas Wallmark, a 2014 fourth-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes with 187 NHL appearances, is leading the way with four goals in three games.

"I know a lot of the guys from playing against them," said Tambellini, the top scorer for Rogle BK Angelholm, of the Swedish Hockey League. "They're a strong group, and they've got a big team with a lot of skilled players. We are going to have to bring our best to put up a fight against these guys."

Canada's third-ranked power play (37.5 per cent) could prove the difference against the Swedes, whose penalty kill (60 per cent) is ranked last among the 12 teams.

"When it is an elimination game, it is all about detail," said Team Canada captain Eric Staal. "It will be a high-intensity game and it is all about making smart decisions. It will be a big test."

Consistency is key

On Tuesday, Staal scored his first goal of the tournament at 15:55 of the third period. His line has struggled offensively and Staal has looked, at times, like a 37-year-old veteran who hasn't played much for the last eight months.

But the captain's legs appeared to be back in the qualifier — another good sign for Team Canada.

'We're getting a lot better," Tomkins said. "The first three games we had a little more ups and downs than we hoped for, so we're going to be a little more consistent."

"Hopefully," Tambellini said, "we're peaking at the right time."

 The gold-medal game is slated for 11:10 a.m. ET on Feb. 19 at the National Indoor Stadium. You can watch every game of the tournament live or on demand on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app, or on CBC Gem.

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