A 4-2 wipeout eliminated the United States from the World Cup of Hockey on Tuesday night, ending what was perhaps the best chance for this generation of players to win an international competition. Instead, the U.S. flamed out in two games, leaving disappointment, frustration and plenty of questions about the direction of the program.
In the aftermath of a dominant, clinical performance by the tournament favorite and a lackluster showing by the U.S., top players were shell-shocked by the early exit.
"Two games here and you're done," said Kane, who doesn't have a goal in nine consecutive games in a Team USA uniform. "It's just amazing. It's crazy the way hockey is. It's definitely frustrating being an American and having these opportunities and have nothing to show for it."
A shutout at the hands of Team Europe, a group of players from eight countries, and then a mistake-prone loss to Canada was enough to keep the U.S. from reaching the semifinals. Canada and Europe clinched spots.
What Kane called a "dud" against Europe put the U.S. in a must-win mode against its biggest rival. Regulation victories against Canada and the Czech Republic would have advanced the Americans. And now the final round-robin game between Team USA and Team Czech Republic on Thursday is a matchup of lame-duck teams.
U.S. general manager Dean Lombardi said in June that his goal was to build a team that could beat Canada. The American roster, heavy on size and grit and light on speed and skill, was widely panned when it was announced, and it took more hits this week.
"You guys can beat up the roster all you want," U.S. coach John Tortorella said. "You look at some of those players on our roster, there are some pretty good skilled players, and we just simply did not do enough offensively, and we self-inflicted quite a bit in two games."
Tortorella said he is still waiting for the U.S. to generate some offense. It got an early goal on Tuesday by defenseman Ryan McDonagh and a late one by T.J. Oshie well after the game had been decided.
Forwards Phil Kessel, Paul Stastny and Kyle Okposo, and defensemen Justin Faulk and Kevin Shattenkirk were among the players left off the roster who could have provided more offense.
Minutes after the game went final, Kessel tweeted:
It was just his third tweet in the past year, one of which was a picture of him raising the Stanley Cup.
After mistakes led to two Canada goals by Matt Duchene and one each by Corey Perry and Patrice Bergeron, U.S. players brushed off Kessel's tweet and criticism of the roster construction.
"Everyone that was here deserved it," said captain Joe Pavelski, who like Kane and fellow star Zach Parise struggled to generate scoring chances. "There's decisions made and that's the way they went, and that's the way that group was put together. It doesn't matter who has here or who wasn't. It was a job for us to get it done, and we were not good enough."
The U.S. continued to be not good enough against Canada, falling to 1-5 against the world's top hockey power dating to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. On Tuesday night, Canada was the better team from about the five-minute mark on, getting two goals 14 seconds apart to move past McDonagh's score and benefiting from 34 saves by Carey Price.
Price's international shutout streak ended at 228:41, but Canada got the job done.
"There was times tonight that I didn't think we were even close to being as good as we're capable of being," Canada coach Mike Babcock said. "We weren't as good as we're capable of being tonight."
The U.S. was not nearly as good as it was capable of, despite the star power left at home. Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien left Duchene alone on his first goal, and winger Max Pacioretty failed to clear the puck on his second; they were the kinds of mistakes no team can make against Canada.
"It was very important that if they were going to get something, they had to earn it," Tortorella said. "I thought we had a good start, but we gave them a couple of freebies there, and you just can't do that."
Goaltender Jonathan Quick continued his strong international play, stopping 30 shots to keep the score from being even more lopsided. But like Kessel sitting at home with his dog, Quick couldn't get goals at the other end to keep the U.S. from another head-shaking loss.
"I feel like we let our country down, we let ourselves down," defenseman Ryan Suter said. "You come into this not knowing how many more chances you're going to get, and to be out after two games is extremely disappointing."