HALIFAX - It was a win so typically Canadian that it could be part of a patriotic beer ad.
The U.S. team outplayed the hosts for good stretches of Tuesday night's game but it was O Canada that was played over the Metro Centre speakers when it was over. "We played really hard right to the end," said Canadian forward Ryan Getzlaf. "We take pride in those kind of wins. We were raised that way."
He made a key play on Dany Heatley's game-winning goal with 46.8 seconds left in the third period by cutting through the middle and opening a space for his linemate. Heatley then one-timed a shot past American goalie Craig Anderson to give Canada a 5-4 victory.
In other scores, Russia beat Denmark 4-1, the Czech Republic hammered Italy 7-2 and Latvia blanked Slovenia 3-0.
The first true challenge for Canada at this IIHF World Hockey Championship exposed some flaws in the team's game.
An inability to handle the speed of the Americans was particularly glaring on this night. Canada also gave the U.S. five power plays and were scored on twice while short-handed. Still, the team found a way to win.
"We're a work in progress I guess," said captain Shane Doan. "We're going to keep working no matter what in every game. Nothing's going to come easy."
Success seems to have come quite easily to the top line of Heatley, Getzlaf and Rick Nash. They've combined for 22 points through three games here and don't look to be slowing down any.
The team played Tuesday's game in the vintage jerseys of the 1976 Canada Cup team and put on a performance many of those former players would recognize. Doan believes those successful teams of the past helped create an expectation for current Canadian teams that they'll always find a way to win.
"It's our sport we feel and we have to win," he said. "It's not really a choice. We really feel that way and that's the way it is - you have to win.
"Our first line does everything right and they do it the hard way. They drive the net, they go to the net, they create open ice. We don't necessarily rely on the pretty play, we don't rely on one individual guy. As a unit we're pretty solid and we can count on our depth. If it takes 60 minutes it takes 60 minutes."
It took all of that against the Americans.
The Metro Centre had a party-like atmosphere for the first time during this tournament thanks to a sellout crowd of 9,192. Many of them brought bells and other noise-makers and were eager to start a wave around the arena. They went nuts after Heatley scored the winner.
"It's always exciting playing in front of a soldout building with the home crowd on your side," said goalie Cam Ward, who made 29 saves and was Canada's player of the game. "It just showed how loud it can get in there."
Heatley finished with two goals while Brent Burns, Jonathan Toews and Derek Roy each added one for Canada (3-0).
Zach Parise, Patrick O'Sullivan, Dustin Brown and Jason Pominville replied for the U.S. (2-1).
The Americans' last world championship medal was a bronze in 2004 but this team proved it has the talent to be around in the late stages this year. Half of the American roster is under the age of 25 and that youthful energy was more than evident during this game.
"I thought they played their asses off," said U.S. coach John Tortorella.
Canada was fortunate to find itself up 2-0 after getting outplayed in the opening 20 minutes.
The Americans drew two quick penalties and controlled the early portion of the game before Burns scored on one of Canada's first chances. The puck came out to him at the point and he moved to the centre of the ice before snapping a shot through heavy traffic and by starter Tim Thomas at 8:26.
It didn't deter the U.S., which kept coming at Canada but was unable to solve Ward. A quick pass sent Adam Burish in alone on the Canadian goalie but he couldn't beat him on the glove hand.
Heatley made it 2-0 by scoring with 10.8 seconds to play in the first period. He knocked in a rebound from in-close.
Canada briefly looked like it might make this a rout when Toews scored 18 seconds into the second period. He had a nice second effort and beat Thomas high to put the home team up 3-0.
It had been smoke and mirrors to that point and the speedy Americans soon cut through the mirage. Parise and O'Sullivan scored 2:17 apart to cut the lead to 3-2.
"I think we showed a lot of people that we're capable of playing at the same level as these guys," said O'Sullivan.
The Canadians were able to steady the ship after that and extended their lead to 4-2 on a goal by Roy at 3:29 of the third period. He took a nice pass from Doan and slammed it by Anderson, who was sent in for the final 20 minutes after Thomas suffered a knee injury.
Two impressive American power plays erased that lead as Brown and Pominville scored 36 seconds apart. Both finished off crisp passing plays while their team was playing with a man advantage.
A potential winning goal was on Jason Chimera's stick late in the third period but his shot sailed over an empty net with Anderson down and out.
Heatley ensured that was only a footnote when he scored the winner a couple minutes later.
"We're a Canadian team, we know we have character," said Heatley. "It was a character win but I feel like we can play a lot better. And we will."
In Tuesday's other early game, Russia beat Denmark 4-1 in Quebec City. In evening action, the Czech Republic faced Italy in Quebec while and Slovenia met Latvia in Halifax.