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Tortorella feels Team USA is "ready to go"

Ready to start World Cup after win against Team Finland in last pretournament game

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

WASHINGTON -- Team USA was on cruise control for 50 minutes. Truth be told, the way things were going, their three-goal lead may as well have been six.

But Patrik Laine, who easily was Team Finland's best forward Tuesday, scored a power-play goal 11:22 into the third period, and forward Jussi Jokinen scored at even strength 4:05 later.

Suddenly, Team USA was on its heels. And when defenseman Ryan Suter shot the puck over the glass with 2:02 remaining, his teammates scrambled to protect a one-goal lead with Team Finland goalie Pekka Rinne pulled for an extra attacker.

It may have been the perfect test in its pretournament finale leading into the World Cup of Hockey 2016, which Team USA will start for real against Team Europe at Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports).

"It's good for us," coach John Tortorella said after his players kept their composure and held on for a 3-2 win at Verizon Center. "Just trying to find a way. We had some good blocked shots. That stuff will help, getting into those types of situations. I hope it doesn't start doing that Saturday, but for this type of game, I thought we did some good things and lived through that."

Indeed, it was a blessing in disguise. Given the abundance of talent each team will put on the ice at this tournament, Team USA fully realizes the chances of it winning blowouts over the next two weeks are slim and none. Tuesday provided an opportunity to see how the U.S. can perform under immense pressure.

"I don't think you think about it like that, but I guess now, yeah, maybe," defenseman John Carlson said. "You want to get in all those different situations so that comfort level goes up in all those little areas. I'm sure it won't hurt us. Now we can have some film on it and talk about it and have something to play against."

Said Tortorella: "All the teams in this tournament, I think they're going to be … and that's why I liked how it ended up today; I think we're going to be playing a lot of one-goal games in the tournament. I think it's that evenly matched. They battled back hard, and we had some big blocks at the end."

Tuesday also was when Tortorella ultimately decided that Jonathan Quick edged out Ben Bishop and Cory Schneider to become Team USA's No. 1 goaltender. Quick was sharp the majority of the night and shut the door in the closing minutes when his team was shorthanded. Tortorella was leaning towards Quick before the game. His performance against Finland sealed the deal.

"I don't think you ever want to get into that situation, but if you do, I think it's good for us for a learning experience for our 4-on-6, [Quick] obviously making some pretty good saves there," forward T.J. Oshie said. "We've got to look at that video, clean up whatever mistakes we made and be even better for the tournament."

In the end, it was the type of game when Tortorella learned a lot about his players. He learned they're capable of starting strong and grabbing an early lead, evidenced by Oshie's goal 1:08 into the game. He learned they're capable of feeding off the early energy and carrying it over in the second period.

He also learned that even when things start to unravel, his players have the mental fortitude to find a way to overcome adversity. It gave Tortorella a positive feeling before Team USA boarded its flight to Toronto, where it will enjoy a day off Wednesday before it gets in two more practices before the World Cup gets underway this weekend.

"I thought they played their best game of the exhibition," Tortorella said. "They want to play. They don't want to listen to us, they don't want to go through the practice. They want to play the games, they want to play against the best players, they want to compete. They'll be ready to go."

Now it's for real.

"We've got a great team," Carlson said. "I think we've got all the bases covered. It's up to us."

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