Canada's hopes of winning a gold medal on its home soil remain alive. It's just going to take a longer, more grueling route than initially hoped to make it happen.
After a disappointing showing in preliminary play, Canada's daunting road toward winning an Olympic medal begins Tuesday night against Germany in the playoff qualification round.
Comprised of some of the NHL's best players and considered a favorite to win its second Olympic gold medal in 58 years, the host Canadians sent a hockey-loving nation into panic mode with their play in the first three games of the tournament.
After opening with an 8-0 win over Norway, Canada struggled to beat Switzerland 3-2 in a shootout. Then, in a rematch of the 2002 Olympic gold-medal game, the Canadians fell 5-3 to an unheralded United States team Sunday, despite outshooting their North American rival 45-23.
The underachieving opening week left Canada with the sixth seed, without a qualification-round bye and needing to win four games over six days in this single-elimination format to capture the gold.
"It is probably not where we wanted to come in," said Canadian star Sidney Crosby, who has two goals and three assists in the tournament. "But that is where we are now. When you get to this point in the tournament it is not going to be easy.
"Everyone forgets that everyone's in the same position. Everyone has to win now. It doesn't matter what you did in the last three games. Whoever's going to be able to deal with it the best and be their best at the right time that's who's going to win."
The Canadians will certainly need to be at their best.
While a victory over a German team that was outscored 12-3 while losing its first three games appears highly probable, Canada would then face third-seeded Russia in the quarterfinals Wednesday in what many expected to be the gold-medal matchup. If the Canadians survive that contest, defending gold-medalist Sweden could await in Thursday's semifinals.
Despite the challenge ahead, the Canadians are taking a positive approach.
"We still feel we're in a good spot, honestly," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "We knew it wouldn't be an easy thing. But now, they really do count. You have to win."
Coach Mike Babcock will start Vancouver Canuck Roberto Luongo in goal instead of Martin Brodeur, whose inconsistent play resulted in four goals on 22 shots against the U.S.
"We're in the winning business, and to win the games at any level, at a high level, you need big saves," Babcock said. "We believe Lou gives us a real good opportunity to win."
Playing in his NHL home arena, Luongo made 15 saves against Norway last Tuesday.
"I'm really pumped up and ready to go," he said. "When you're excited and the adrenaline is going, you don't have any problems finding that rhythm."
While Babcock hopes a change in goal will help spark his club, he'll likely need better efforts from top forwards Joe Thornton, Mike Richards and Patrice Bergeron, who combined for one goal in preliminary play. Dany Heatley of the San Jose Sharks has a team-leading four goals.
Despite having seven NHL players on its roster, Germany enters the 12-team qualification round as the 11th seed. After being shutout by Sweden and Finland, the Florida Panthers' Dennis Seidenberg ended the Germans' goal drought in a 5-3 loss to Belarus on Saturday.
Germany, winless at the Olympics since 2002, still has the fewest goals of any team in the tournament.
"It's very frustrating right now. I think everybody is pretty down," said forward Marcel Goc, who also scored Saturday.
Thomas Greiss of the San Jose Sharks posted a 3.53 goals-against average in the three preliminary games for the Germans.