Friday, January 1, 2010

Canada beats US in classic

For at least one more night, Oh Canada was played as fans cheered their hockey heroes one more time for rallying back from two down to beat Team USA 5-4 in the skill competition. In front of over a record 15,000 jam packed at Saskatoon for what's looking to be a traditional WJC New Year's marquee attraction, the five-time defending champs overcame a 4-2 third period deficit to pull out the victory- winning Group A for an automatic bye into the semis.

Earlier in the day, Sweden earned the other free spot by routing US quarterfinal foe Finland 7-1, with Devil properties Jacob Josefson scoring twice and Mattias Tedenby tallying a goal and assist. Russia also defeated the Czech Republic 5-2 to setup the other quarter versus Swiss. Islander property Kiril Petrov scored a goal and assist while Blue Jacket product Nikita Filatov added two helpers. Vladimir Tarashenko had two goals and a helper.

As for the latest American-Canadian showdown, it lived up to its billing with both teams skating ferociously finishing every check in a barn burner. If last year's Canada 7-4 comeback from an early 0-3 hole was great, then this was even better featuring more twists and turns than a roller coaster. Both came out ready for this crucial test after laughers. Early on, the USA established their forecheck. But it was the hosts who got on the board first when Stefan Della-Rovere slammed home a Jordan Caron shot that got redirected by Luke Adam, caroming off Jack Campbell to Rovere for the gimme just 2:03 in.

However, the lead lasted only 1:37 with the Americans getting it right back on a power play goal from Philip McRae. With Brayden Schenn in the box, McCrae started the play down low coming out for a stuff try which Jake Allen got a piece of. But it rebounded to Jerry D Amigo, who also was denied. The puck caromed back to McRae for an easy finish. Tied up, both clubs took turns attacking. But in a seesaw period that saw Canada hold a slight 10-9 shots edge, the USA did a good job shutting down their dangerous power play by killing off two penalties, including one taken by Ranger prospect Chris Kreider that negated a man-advantage. Our great attention to detail saw them not only disrupt Ryan Ellis but blanket Taylor Hall, who was closely shadowed by junior 'mate Cam Fowler.

Sound backchecking, blocked shots and breaking up plays at last split seconds allowed the Americans to catch the Canadian points deep, generating plenty of shorthanded opportunities, including a near miss from Ryan Bourque off a nice Derek Stepan set up. A common theme throughout. Still deadlocked at one, Team USA finally made it work when Jordan Schroeder got behind for a breakaway and went five-hole on Allen for a 2-1 lead. The play was made possible by standout teammate Tyler Johnson, who after breaking up a chance, turned around in one motion and threaded the needle to the Vancouver No.22 overall '09 pick. A great heads up play for the lead.

This game had everything, including nasty hits like the one Colten Teubert delivered on an American. Both teams didn't give an inch. Trailing for the first time all tournament (they hadn't been scored on till tonight), Canada struck back thanks to Jordan Eberle's fancy backhand tuck job. Taking a Schenn pass, Eberle dashed around a D and then went to the backhand, deking Campbell for the equalizer 4:07 later. Amazingly, less than a minute later, a huge play took place when Teubert took down a cutting Kreider for a penalty shot. He had completed a hat trick versus Latvia with an off the grain forehand. He made the same move but Allen gave him nothing to Canadian fans' delight.

Team USA then ran into penalty trouble handing Canada consecutive power plays. What probably was frustrating was that while A.J. Jenks got nabbed for interference, Nazem Kadri threw him down moments earlier with no call. It didn't matter. They had to kill it. As time wound down in the second, our guys continued to attack exploiting Canada's overpinching. They again connected shorthanded when this time Johnson was the beneficiary of an inspired D Amigo rush. He flew down the left wing forcing Allen to make a stop but the puck went up in the air right off Johnson's stick and in for the shorty, coming with under 11 seconds left. Most amazing was D Amigo's presence of mind to look up at the clock as the play developed, putting them back ahead. Great stuff.

It set up one heck of a third. With Canada still on the PP, Hall nearly tied it twice on the opening shift just missing wide after slipping behind and then also coming close on a wrap around. However, as the penalty expired, Stepan made a nice defensive play and then found Danny Kristo for a big goal 61 seconds in. One of the most dangerous finishers on our side, Kristo beat the D with a great one-on-one move inside and then went five-hole pumping his fists and cheering as he passed the bench.

The problem was there was still plenty of time left. Too much for Canada to give up. Stepan came close to making it 5-2 but Allen shut the door. That gave his teammates a chance to comeback. For a while, nothing was going on except sound defensive play from Team USA. But that all changed when with under 10 minutes left, Eberle got a stick on a Schenn shot for his second of the night, cutting to 4-3. Brandon McMillan started it with a good cycle, getting a key secondary helper. With the crowd suddenly alive, the US took a timeout. Unfortunately, they couldn't stem momentum. Not even after denying Canada on another PP and getting their own with over five minutes to go.

Instead, they were way too tenative. Just as I was noting it to my Dad, here came Alex Pietrangelo taking full advantage of a sloppy turnover and then roofing a perfect laser to know it at four apiece with 4:05 remaining. The roof nearly came off the place. Amazingly, they almost won it in regulation but a goal was wiped out due to a player in the crease with like two minutes left. It would go to four-on-four overtime.

Unfortunately, nothing was decided, forcing a winner take all shootout for tops in the Group. Nothing separated the North American combatants thru two rounds with Eberle, Kristo, Kadri and Jeremy Morin all scoring. Brandon Kozun put Canada back ahead when he shot thru Campbell's wickets, leaving it all up to Schroeder. He had a fantastic game but went to the same move that worked prior. This time, Allen closed it up, allowing his team to celebrate a great victory to improve to 4-0 and an automatic bid into the Final Four.

As the Canadian anthem played, the dejection on our kids' faces said it all. They knew they had it but let Canada off the hook. Stepan still composed himself to do an interview on NHL Network. Didn't catch it. They have nothing to be ashamed of but were oh so close. Now, they must go out and beat the Finns for another possible crack at their archrival. At least it was a classic.

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