WCOH: North America Wins a Thriller, Sweden Clinches with Loss

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Credit: Kevin Sousa of USA TODAY Sports

Exhale, everybody. That was undoubtedly the best game of the tournament so far, and if you were watching, count yourself lucky. It will probably end up being the best game of the tournament, period. With a semifinal berth at stake, Team Sweden and Team North America turned in a high-octane thriller that ended in a fitting fashion: An electrifying 3-on-3 OT with end-to-end rushes, dramatic saves, and a beauty of a game-winning goal. 

If you missed this one, you’ll want to go ahead and watch a replay of the entire game, because this matchup was one for the ages. Sure, there’s no history or bad blood between Sweden and this North America team, but there was a whole lot of skill and talent on the ice between the two teams, and we sure saw plenty of it.

There was a lot riding on this game, and the North Americans were without their number one goalie (Matt Murray sat this one out with a thumb injury) and their number one defenseman (Aaron Ekblad is out of the tournament with a concussion). They seemingly weren’t feeling the pressure, though, and if they were, they responded well. 

The game got off to a flying start. Sweden, which boasts the most well-rounded defense in the tournament, seemed ill-prepared for the North Americans’ blazing speed: 30 seconds in, North America was up 1-0 on an Auston Matthews goal off of a Morgan Rielly rebound.

Impressive play by Matthews to collect a McDavid rebound, stickhandle on his knees, and get the puck to Rielly to shoot before cleaning up the rebound. Something tells me that this won’t be the first Rielly rebound that Matthews will turn into a goal, which is good news for Leafs fans. Oilers fans will also be pleased to notice that Connor McDavid was the catalyst for this play, cutting through the neutral zone and making one of the best defense pairings in the NHL look silly in the process of getting to the net. 

North America didn’t settle for a 1-0 lead either. About a minute after Matthews’ goal, Vincent Trocheck got his first of the tournament and made it 2-0. Not long after, Filip Forsberg scored Sweden’s first goal, and you began to get the feeling that this was going to be a high-scoring affair. 

Sweden didn’t manage to adjust for a significant portion of the first period, leaving the middle of the ice open and letting the young guns beat them with their incredible speed in transition. There were five breakaways in the first period alone for the kids, and it was Johnny Gaudreau who finally capitalized on one. Gaudreau has been one of North America’s most impressive players in the tournament so far, and while he missed a penalty shot earlier in the game, he didn’t make any mistakes this time and gave the young guns their second 2-goal lead of the game. 

Just like before, though, that lead didn’t last long. Nicklas Backstrom’s one-timer deflected off of a skate and beat John Gibson to make it 3-2. 

After that first period, it would be easy to look at a scoresheet and think that the second period was dull in comparison. That would be a silly assumption, because although there weren’t any goals in the period, there were scoring chances galore. 

North America pushed hard, getting 21 shots on goal in this period alone. Lundqvist was the best player for the Swedes, looking calm and in control after a shaky first period in which he let in three goals on 16 shots. For the young guns, Gaudreau continued to set the pace. He wreaked havoc while on the ice, and now seems like an appropriate time to remind everyone that he’s a still-unsigned RFA. Something tells me that he’ll have a bit more leverage over Calgary after this tournament is said and done. 

The pace of the second was nearly as fast as in the first, although not quite as frenetic. Sweden still gave the North Americans too much space, but didn’t allow the breakaways they did in the first. In any case, the second period didn’t yield any goals, so the teams entered the final frame with the North Americans up by one. 

In the end, it was Erik Karlsson’s point shot, tipped by Patrik Berglund, that tied the game. The score would remain 3-3 through the end of regulation, and the 3-on-3 OT that ensued was 4:11 of breathtaking play. North America had a very good chance early on when Mark Scheifele found Connor McDavid in front of the net, but Lundqvist made a terrific save. Typical Lundqvist stuff. 

During the final minute of the OT, it looked like Sweden was going to walk away with two points and end North America’s tournament, but Gibson stoned Daniel Sedin on a breakaway and sent North America the other way. Gaudreau continued his incredible play and found Nate MacKinnon on Lundqvist’s doorstep. MacKinnon toe-dragged past Lundqvist’s poke check and roofed the puck for the game-winning goal. 

North America may have won the game, but because the game went beyond regulation time, Sweden walks away with a semifinal berth.

Here’s how this shakes out: Sweden needed at least one point to guarantee themselves a spot in the semifinals. They got that point when this game went to OT. North America, on the other hand, needed to win the game in regulation to clinch. With the OT win, however, they ensure that any win by Finland — whether in regulation or OT — would send them to the semifinals. If Finland loses in any fashion, both Russia and North America will have 4 points. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record, and Russia beat North America, so they would be the ones to advance.

In short: Three semifinal berths are already occupied. Sweden, Europe, and Canada will all be advancing beyond the group stage. The final spot will come down to tomorrow’s game between Finland and Russia.

You can catch that game at 3PM local time. You can bet the North Americans will be watching.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    Considering all of Johnny’s points in this tournament were scored on the road….perhaps we can put this issue of not being able to score on the road to rest.

  • Randaman

    I really hate the Bettman loser point!

    If Russia wins tomorrow it should have come down to goal differential, just like any other tournament.

    Sour grapes ??

  • bwar

    For the amount of grade A chances the NA team had I’m really surprised this game went to overtime. Seems like momentum is huge for the kids and the veteran teams just seem to be able to wait until the kids have a brief lapse. Glad they won but unfortunately that’s probably the end of the tournament for them.

  • Randaman

    The good thing about possibly being out of this is that McDavid, Nuge & Gaudreau are all coming to camp flying and healthy. That is, if Johnny goes to camp. I give Gaudreau a lot of praise for his play this tournament. McDavid looks fantastic (faster if you can believe that) also. Nuge looks much stronger.

    Calgary should have signed Johnny earlier. Cap issues are a comin

    • Arminius

      Coilers have nothing to do with it. Johnny is raising the price of his contract.
      McLellan needs the wins and that’s why he’s playing Johnny. Maybe he’s not as clueless as I thought. Even he knows where his breads buttered..on the 4th rounder himself

      • Boom or Bust

        Ron Maclean talked about Peter making a joke that they were going to play Johnny more to raise his price. So yea….that’s where that comes from…I think you should stick to soccer…your a rube whenever you come trolling!!

        • Arminius

          Who’s trolling. I said it after the loss to Russia. When McLellan gave Conner 7 mins more playing time and 3.5 more on the PP than Johnny..
          Give Johnny as much time as Conner and as plum PP time and see what happens..Lol and Behold..Johnny Overtime

          Don’t you hate it when I’m right? Not bad for a soccer rube eh?

  • jakethesnail

    I have been impressed with how much better Austen Mathews has gotten from the first exhibition game played. And Morgan Reilly was a beast in the three games!

  • Kensington

    If this the end of the line for TNA you have to think the best player over the tourney was JG. He was the first star twice, 2nd and third (including the prelim games) and maybe more times I am not sure!

  • slapshot444

    The Bettman looser point has to go, not only because of this ridiculous situation issuing looser points in a three game series but more so in the regular season. Who wants to reward mediocrity.
    On another point I’m wondering how much more Johnny is worth now? As much as i don’t like his agent the hold out strategy made his client at least an extra million over the term.

  • OilCan2

    With Puljujarvi, Pakirenen & Salinanen in Oilers silks I’ll be cheering for Finland. It looks like those pesky Ruskies are trying to win. I’m pleasantly surprised to see such awesome hockey early.

  • Pouzar99

    I love TNA. In fact I love watching them so much I even love Johnny Hockey. What a terrific kid, and a Jersey boy like me. Only a jerk would try and pick and choose between the players on the basis of which ones play for their favourite team. I am not going to play that game. Gaudreau, McDavid, MacKinnon, Matthews, Nuge, Eichel, Parayko, Gostisphere, and so many others have played fantastic and I don’t care which country they come from or which NHL team they play for, watching them play with all guns blazing has been fantastic. They are probably done unless Finland has a miracle up their sleeves but their last two games are some of the most thrilling I have seen in years. Thanks for making hockey fun again guys.

    • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

      He probably won’t be the only Flame that gets concussed in a game this year , especially taking into consideration the tiny forwards they have.

      • MontanaMan

        Ha. A team finally signs a forward over 200 pounds and now they’re the toughest team in the league. Of course in typical Oiler fashion, they don’t have size when it’s needed and now when the game is getting faster with smaller forwards, they go out and sign a Neanderthal like Lucic to a long term deal that they will regret for years.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    If Johnny gets his $8M a year he had sure better take the SN announcers out for a glutton’s feast as they are absolutely giddy about him and gushing over him at every turn.

    I am sure Johnny’s camp is peppering Tre with sound bites from the SN broadcasts as more ammunition as to why their boy should be an $8M man.

    Gots to think that Tre and the Flames FO will be cheering hard for the Russkies against the Finns so that the tournie can provide no more chances for Gaudreau’s agent to prod the Flames to pay the man what he is worth.

    Just because the Flames FO painted themselves into the corner financially, that is not a legitimate reason to try and take it out on Johnny and make him pay for their stupidity and excesses.

    • Arminius

      You’re an idiot. You’re the same guy says Johnny sucks and than turns around and says he’s worth 9 million. Neither is true.
      Why would you pay a ppg player 8 million. Think about it. Team has control in his first kick at RFA so why let him take you to the cleaners. He’s amazing as everyone has seen the last few weeks but He needs to prove he can continue to score at that pace and even higher before he gets that kind of money . it’s not because they’re trying to stick it to him . Do you know anything?

      • pkam

        How much should JG get paid?

        Let’s compare him to some top players like Kane, Crosby, Malkin.

        The closest comparison is Patrick Kane. He was ppg in his ELC. He was signed to 5 years at 6.3M in 2010 when the cap is 59M. So prorated his 6.3M at 59M cap to 73M cap, it is approximately 7.8M.

        Crosby and Malkin scored around 1.4ppg in their ELC and were signed to 5 years at 8.7M when the cap is 57M. So prorated their 8.7M at 57M based on 1.4ppp to 73M and 1ppg, it is 7.96M.

        And don’t forget, it is harder to score these days than 6-7 years ago. So a ppg today should worth more than a ppg 6-7 years ago.

        Just like Kane, Crosby, and Malkin, JG doesn’t have to prove he can continue to score at that pace. It is whether management believe he can or not.

        If the management doesn’t, then sign him to a bridge (probably around 6M) and prepare to sign him to 8M+ after the bridge (due to less number of RFA years and increase in salary cap).

      • BlueMoonNigel

        I might be an idiot, but when did I say Johnny sucked? Evidence please? When did I say Johnny was worth or even asked for $9M? Evidence please?

        His agent is well within his duty to ask for $8M a year and justify it. Tre can always say no, explain why and counter.

        How could Johnny at $8M a year be taking the team to the cleaners? It might be high-end for the first couple of years, but it will soon represent value for money, and near the end of it, it will look like the steal of the century.

        Get you facts straight, jagoff.

  • Joy S. Lee

    Well done, Megan. You captured the essence of the story, which was that the game itself – in context of both Team NA vs Sweden, and hockey – was extraordinary. Completely inspiring.

    I expected to find more who were inspired here, and do see them; but it also didn’t take long for those who love to bring everyone down to their level – exploring what is wrong rather than seeing what is so obviously right – to take over.

    Not sure that it’s possible to find a more inspiring game to work with. You get it. It’s a shame that they don’t. But I won’t give up on them, because… well, it ain’t over just yet. Team Finland, please make us proud! (…and give a few of these turkeys another chance to drag their asses out of the doldrums.)