MALMÖ – Power-play goals by Connor McDavid and Curtis Lazar 2:19 apart early in the third broke a 1-1 tie and led Canada to a 3-2 win over the U.S. tonight in Malmö.
Canada takes first place in Group A and will now face Switzerland in the quarter-finals on Thursday. The U.S. will face Russia the same day.
The Issatdion had an electric atmosphere made possible by the red-and-white clad crowd of 3,882 which gave the arena a feeling of being in Medicine Hat, not Malmö, but the noise inspired both teams to play physical but clean hockey.
"It was a great crowd, but I think our team reacted pretty well given the circumstances," said U.S. captain Riley Barber.
The Americans controlled the scoreless first period and, for the fourth straight game, Canada surrendered the first goal. Nevertheless, the victors played their most discplined and focused game of the tournament to date. Indeed, it was in large part thanks to U.S. penalty trouble early in the third that Canada was able to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead.
"We took some bad penalties, and before you know it, the puck is in the back of the net," Barber noted. "But the real tournament starts now. It sucks to lose, but we're not that worried about it."
The opening period was exactly as one might have expected: plenty of hitting, end-to-end action, and some tentative play. The Americans had more puck possession perhaps, but Canada had its moments and goalie Zachary Furcale made the biggest save of the period when he robbed Riley Barber with his glove hand.
Nerves out of the way, teams played a more lively second, aided in part by a couple of penalties that paved the way for the opening goal. With teams playing four a side, Barber got the puck to the side of the Canadian net and skated in behind the goal. His wraparound fooled Furcale, who thought Barber would skate in front on the near side.
The goal, at 3:29, woke the Canadians up, and they dominated much of the rest of the period. Jonathan Drouin ripped a shot off the post on a two-on-one, and Canada got even at 12:19 on a great effort from Anthony Mantha.
After making a nice deke with his long reach in the slot, and while being hauled down to draw a penalty, he pushed the puck over to Nic Petan, who had the open side of the goal to work with. Petan didn’t miss.
The assist moved Mantha back into a tie for the tournament scoring lead with ten points and further cemented his place as the team's go-to offensive threat. "I think overall I'm playing better here than at home," he acknowledged. "That's what you need over here, and that's what I'm doing."
Teams exchanged power plays early in the third, and it was Canada which capitalized. McDavid pushed the puck through a maze of players in the crease area that beat Jon Gillies at 3:54 to give Canada its first lead. It was the first goal of the tournament for the 16-year-old who is the third youngest player at the 2014 U20.
"I didn't really know it went in at first," he said, "but the crowd told me, and the boys were fired up. It feels good to finally get one."
Canada drew another penalty soon after and scored again with the extra man to make it 3-1. This time it was a great pass from Drouin in the corner to Lazar, who merely had to re-direct the puck past Gillies at 6:13.
Canada was in full control at this point, and the fans were partying with New Year's Eve enthusiasm. But the work wasn't yet done. On another power play the team got complacent and surrendered a breakaway to Connor Garrick, who was stoned by Furcale to keep the two-goal lead.
No sooner had Furcale made the great save, though, than he whiffed on a routine shot from Stefan Matteau at 17:15 to set up a tense finish.
"We played the way we wanted to play in the first, and picked it up at the end of the third," Barber said. "We have to stay out of the penalty box, and we'll be ready for the next game, for sure."