It will be a golden matchup that most did not predict.
That's because the majority of people heading into the day in Ufa had to believe it would be a Canada-Russia final with the two hockey power houses battling it out. But instead they will be relegated to fighting for bronze as the United States and Sweden will be playing in the World Junior Championship’s final game following dominating and drastic finishes in the set up games.
In the early game in Ufa, the United States looked to avenge a 2-1 loss on December 30th to their neighbors to the North. They did just that and then some, controlling play for all but a couple minutes of play as they scored the game’s first four goals on their way to a 5-1 victory. It was expected to be a great game as their meetings usually are but the way the Americans dominated play, it left many to wonder about the Canadians.
The second game was a much closer affair despite a hot start by the Swedes. They jumped out to a two-goal lead but allowed the hosts an opportunity to make it a great finish. After Russia tied it in the third period, the game would require a shootout in which Sweden would win 3-2 in the third and final round of the one-on-one sessions.
Panthers prospects played a big hand on the score sheet for the winning sides in each game. In the early game, Vincent Trocheck found linemate Rocco Grimaldi who made a nice pass to a trailing Jake McCabe and the US and Buffalo prospect fired it through a screen to take a two-goal advantage with 3:58 left in the opening period. That stood up as the game-winner. The second game saw prospect Rasmus Bengtsson find the score sheet for the first time in the tournament when he picked up the only assist on Washington prospect Filip Forsberg’s goal that gave the Swedes a two goal advantage.
Canada and Russia will hit the ice with bronze on the line starting at 4am EST on Saturday while the United States and Sweden will go for gold starting at 8am EST on Saturday. Both games can be seen on NHL Network.
UNITED STATES 5 – CANADA 1
Playing their sixth game in eight games one could have said that their legs might have been tired. But the adrenaline of playing their neighbors for a chance to move on and play for gold, fueled the United States early.
They were relentless from the drop of the opening puck and cashed in on a screened shot from McCabe just 7:18 into the game. The blueliner netted the eventual game-winner, his third of the tournament, to make it a two-goal advantage after one period of play.
Calgary pick John Gaudreau continued his hot play in the last couple of games, picking up his sixth goal (all over that span) on a pretty toe drag that ended with him picking the top corner over Malcolm Subban just 2:58 into the second. That came after back and forth end-to-end chances for both sides.
A turning point came with 3:39 gone in the period as Panthers pick Jonathan Huberdeau found Islanders pick Ryan Strome all alone with a pretty pass. Anaheim prospect John Gibson had other ideas. A rock in the back, like he has been all tournament, the netminder stoned the attempt to keep Canada off the board. It was just the start as Gibson foiled Canadian attack after attack throughout on his way to a 33 save night.
The Americans would chase Subban when Vesey worked his way around a defenseman and fired the puck off the post, far side.
Canada would finally find their skates and owned the beginning of the third, keeping the United States pinned in their own zone for large chunks of time. They were rewarded when Ty Rattie put in his own rebound after hitting the cross bar with 4:03 gone. The play went to review and actually showed that the ref had blown his whistle before the puck went in but the goal stood, cutting the United States lead to 4-1.
Any thoughts that the Canadians could make it a game again were dashed after Gaudreau netted his tournament leading seventh with 4:19 left to play.
Besides assisting on the GW, Trocheck was spectacular in the face-off circle, winning 73.68% of his draws (14-of-19) while finishing with two shots on net. Grimaldi finished with three shots on net while JR Panther Shayne Gostisbehere and Connor Murphy helped keep the Canadians off the board. On the flip side, it was definitely a game to forget for Huberdeau as he finished with a shot on net and was a minus-4.
SWEDEN 3 – RUSSIA 2 (SO)
For the second game in a row, Russia found a way to come back and force overtime and eventually a shootout to decide who moved on.
Unfortunately the semifinals weren’t like the quarterfinals (where Russia won 4-3 in the shootout over Switzerland) as it was Sweden who got the best of it in the one-on-one session for the 3-2 victory.
Sweden controlled play early on and with that held a two-goal cushion following the first period of play. The power play staked them to the first goal of the game as Elias Lindholm scored 6:35 in. The lead doubled three minutes later when Bengtsson set up Forsberg who made a nice individual effort before firing it top shelf, short side.
Trailing, the hosts would get one back about midway through the second (7:32 in) when Andrei Mironov scored off a Swedish defender that fooled Niklas Lundstrom. Then Russia’s hero against Switzerland, Mikhail Grigorenko, came to the rescue once again, tying the game at two, twenty minutes later (7:56 into the third). Panthers prospect Yaroslav Kosov picked up the secondary assist on the goal.
Despite chances on both sides (six sides each) in overtime, the game would head to the shootout. After the first two shooters from each side failed to beat the netminders, Montreal pick Sebastian Collberg fired home a shot past Tampa Bay pick Andrei Vasilevski. Lundstrom would make one final save on Nikita Kucherov to give the Swedes a chance to defend their gold medal.
Bentsson finished with the assist on three shots while Kosov ended his night with the assist on two shots and was a plus-1.
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