Canada needed an overtime goal from defenseman Drew Doughty to get a 2-1 win against Finland on Sunday, one that gave it first place in Group B and a matchup against the winner of the qualification round game Tuesday between Switzerland and Latvia.
Finland is the fourth seed and will most likely face the host team Russia, which will play Norway in the qualification round.
Canada completed the preliminary round with 11 goals in three games, but Doughty has accounted for four of them and Jeff Carter had three in one period against Austria. All the other players have combined for four, and that lack of offense was never more evident than it was against Finland.
When asked a rather innocuous question about where he felt his team game was at, Babcock began defending his team.
"Every time I've come to Europe and coached a team, whether it be in '97 at the world juniors or in '04 at the world championships or now this time, no one ever seems to be happy with us, and I think we're competing like crazy," Babcock said. "So I'm way happier than the people sitting 200 feet away.
"It's a hard game. The European game is all about defense."
Canada's defensive game has looked great heading into the knockout stage of the tournament, allowing two goals in three games, but the focal point leading into the quarterfinals on Wednesday will be the striking lack of offense from a collection of the best scorers in the world.
Canada has 11 of the top 15 scorers in the NHL among the 14 forwards on its roster, two more than every other team in the Olympic tournament combined. Despite that, Scandinavian neighbors Norway and Finland limited Canada to four goals in regulation time in two games.
Finland captain Teemu Selanne said the goal Sunday was to take away the middle of the ice, and it was something they did with great success.
"We were trying to keep them to the outside because the angles are not so good as in the NHL because of the big ice surface," Selanne said. "I think most of the game we did a good job."
The problem, Babcock suggested, might in fact be the very star power that leads everyone to believe that Canada should be scoring five goals a game combined with those players adjusting to the new dimensions of the ice surface.
"I think when you put a whole bunch of skilled players together, you have a tendency to be on the outside and having the puck and you think you're doing something," Babcock said. "You are, you're hanging on to the puck and you're hanging on to the puck and you're hanging on to the puck, but nothing's going on. You have to get these lessons, and that's what people don't understand."
The lesson, it would appear, is starting to sink in with some players on the team.
"I think we can have a little bit more poise and confidence with the puck and maybe try a few more plays to get inside at certain times," Canada forward Matt Duchene said. "Just keep driving the net and shooting pucks and getting to the paint there."
Though the Canadians were on the defensive about a win, Finland was building confidence thanks to a loss.
Finland entered the tournament feeling anything but confident, arriving in Sochi without likely team captain Mikko Koivu, his brother Saku Koivu and Valtteri Filppula, and then losing Aleksander Barkov once here.
Facing a likely date with the host Russians on Wednesday, the Finns needed a performance like this against a powerhouse team to prove they had a fighting chance to advance to the Olympic semifinals a third straight time.
"Obviously we have a lot of young guys that have never played against these big powers before," Selanne said. "I think this was a big confidence [boost] to realize that we can compete against these guys."
Doughty's overtime goal was his second of the game and gave him goals in each of Canada's three games.
"My first game, I thought I struggled a little bit, especially in the first period, but ever since then, I've been comfortable. I'm ready to go," Doughty said. "I'm used to the ice sheet. I'm used to playing with these guys. I'm just excited now. I forget about everything that's going on around me, and I'm just focused on my game and having fun."
Doughty scored at 2:32 of overtime while playing on the left side with Shea Weber, skating down the left wing and taking a pass from his Los Angeles Kings teammate Jeff Carter before his wrist shot beat Tuukka Rask to give Canada the victory.
Rask bounced back from a rough Olympic debut in an 8-4 win against Austria, making 25 saves.
His Canadian counterpart Carey Price, who regularly faces Rask's Boston Bruins with the Montreal Canadiens, made 13 saves in regulation and another two in overtime.
Price said he found out the night before at 9 p.m. that he would be starting, but he is not taking the news to mean he will be Babcock's guy in net the rest of the way.
"I wasn't focused on that train of thought, that mindset," Price said. "I was just focusing on what I've done all season and just get prepared to stop pucks. It worked out tonight."
Canada thought it had taken the lead at 7:58 of the first period on an extremely rare play.
Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo took a shot that bounced high in the air and landed on top of the Finnish net. Rick Nash then took a swipe at the puck, knocking it off the net, off Rask's back and in.
The video review determined the puck was knocked in with a high stick and disallowed the goal.
Rule 481 of the International Ice Hockey Federation case book deals specifically with instances of the puck being on the net and states: "If the player knocked the puck off without a high sticking infraction and he was not in the goal crease at the moment the puck dropped into the crease, the goal shall be allowed."
However, there is some question as to whether or not Nash actually hit the puck with his stick or if he simply hit the net and caused the puck to bounce off, and it's somewhat unclear whether or not that's relevant.
"I thought the goal was going to be waved off because I think a high stick in the NHL they use the crossbar as the mark," Babcock said. "So if the puck is on top of the net, the easy way out is no goal."
Canada did ultimately take the lead less than five minutes later.
Doughty got the puck near the top of the circle and wound up a wrist shot that beat an unscreened Rask high to the stick side at 13:44, one Rask would likely want to see again.
Rask made up for it shortly afterwards when Patrick Sharp stole the puck deep in the Finnish zone and cut hard to the net before setting Chris Kunitz up in the slot. Kunitz took a quick shot against the grain and Rask came up with a very difficult glove save at 15:04 of the first.
The second period went just as the Finns would have liked: very few chances for either side until they tied it up late.
Tuomo Ruutu went to the front of the net and was engaged in a battle for position with Marc-Edouard Vlasic when Ossi Vaananen let go of a shot from the blue line. While battling with Vlasic, Ruutu was able to get a stick on the shot and tip it past Price at 18:00 of the second to tie the game 1-1.