Saturday, January 2, 2016

U.S. takes down Danes

Auston Matthews and Colin White also chipped in a goal and an assist apiece for the Americans, and Matthew Tkachuk recorded two assists. Anders Bjork had the other U.S. goal.

"Today I think we had a slow start, but we came together in the middle of the game and capitalized on some chances," said Matthews, the U.S. scoring leader with eight points.

The U.S. will face the loser of the Finland-Czech Republic game in the quarter-finals. The Danes, who came fourth in the group, will take on Russia.

Mathias Lassen replied for Denmark.

This was a more hard-fought game than the U.S.’s 10-1 shellacking of Switzerland the night before. But the final result was the same: three points for the Stars and Stripes.

"Tonight was a particularly difficult game when you consider the circumstances," said U.S. coach Ron Wilson. "We scored 10 goals the last game, and tonight was going to be a little bit harder, and it was. But our team responded the way they should. They played a smart game for a team so young."

In a battle of backup goalies, the U.S.’s Brandon Halverson got the better of Denmark’s Mathas Seldrup. Shots favoured the U.S 44-17.

With just one loss (1-0) to group-leading Sweden, the Americans look to be heading in the right direction as they vie for their fourth gold medal of all time. They previously won the World Juniors in 2004, 2010, and 2013.

"It’s not about your draft stock or about how many points you have," emphasizeed Matthews, the projected #1 NHL pick for 2016. "It’s about the team and it’s about winning the gold medal. That’s what we came here to do."

Even though the Danes only returned to the elite division in 2015, they’ve surprised the hockey world by making the final eight for the second straight year. Facing last year’s silver medalists in Russia is a difficult but exciting challenge.

Denmark battled gamely in the early going. Swedish and Canadian fans awaiting the late game at the Helsinki Ice Hall supported the underdogs with chants of “Let’s go, Denmark!”

The Danes responded by getting the opening goal at 10:14. Inside the U.S. blue line, Lassen picked off Louis Belpedio’s ill-advised pass up the middle and scored high to the glove side. 

The U.S. knotted the score with 2:56 left in the opening stanza. Matthews powered to the front of the net and got two cracks on two centering passes from Tkachuk, capitalizing on the second one.

At 4:02 of the second period, the U.S. went up 2-1. Milano came out of the penalty box after serving a bench minor for too many men, hustled to the side of the Danish crease, and banged in a rebound. 

Outshooting Denmark 16-7 in the middle frame, the U.S. steadily took over the play, even though it remained a one-goal game. Kristian Jensen hobbled to the Danish bench after blocking a hard Brandon Carlo slap shot.

Early in the third period, Halverson made a big stop on Soren Nielsen on a Danish shorthanded 2-on-1 break.

At 5:29, White thought he'd given the Americans a two-goal lead when he went to the net and pivoted in front of Seldrup, directing the puck through the goalie with his skate. However, the goal was video-reviewed and called back for a distinct kicking motion.

It didn't matter. Eleven seconds later, Matthews pivoted at the right point and sent a shot toward the net that White tipped home. Again, the play was video-reviewed and the goal stood, as it was not a high stick.

On the power play, Bjork killed any hopes of a Danish comeback by tipping home a nice Milano pass from the right faceoff circle at 7:43 for a 4-1 lead.

"We played well in all the games," said Wilson. "We finished second and that’s a feather in our cap. Now we’ve got to prepare for the next game."

Not scoring with the man advantage has been a handicap for Denmark in this tournament. Through four games, they remain the only World Junior team with zero power play goals. (They have also only garnered six man advantages.)

U.S. forward Alex DeBrincat missed his second straight game after being injured in the loss to Sweden on Monday.

It was just the second World Junior meeting in history between these two nations. The U.S. hammered Denmark 11-3 on December 26, 2011 in Edmonton, Alberta.

No comments: