The Czechs and Americans have a recent history of playing closely contested games. Six of the nine games they have played at the World Championships since 2002 have been decided by one goal. When last these teams met, Team USA defeated the Czechs 2-1 in a shootout in the quarter-finals of the 2016 IIHF World Championship in Russia.
Today’s quarterfinal game at Jyske Bank Boxen was the Czech Republic’s first game at this arena. As part of Group B, Team USA has called this home for two weeks.
Both teams spent the first half of the opening period feeling each other out while getting some scoring opportunities. At times, Team USA seemed a bit tentative but at the midway point of the first, they would get their legs under them.
Cam Atkinson hit the crossbar two and half minutes into the game. Later, Charlie McAvoy cut backdoor to the net, taking an Alec Martinez pass but could not uncork a shot.
Just as penalty ended, Patrick Kane took the puck from his own zone, raced up the ice on the right wing into the Czech zone sending a shot far side that beat Francouz at 10:36. As he has done the entire tournament, Kane provided the offensive spark that his team needed. It was the captain’s seventh goal of the tournament and his first scored at even strength. All six of his previous goals were scored on the power play. Derek Ryan added an assist.
"It makes a huge difference [having Kane here]," said Alex DeBrincat. "He can turn it on and take control of a game. His leadership, his style of play really helps us. It's huge having him here."
Team USA struck again at 12:19 when Johnny Gaudreau brought the puck into the Czech zone, curled at the blue line then handing off to Nick Bonino. Bonino spotted Cam Atkinson, who accepted a pass in front all alone with time to make a move.
Czechs worked the puck in and sustained an attack. Several shots tested Kinkaid but no goals scored. This was a preview of what occur in the second.
Tomas Plekanec’s scoring attempt would not come off. The Czech forward skated near the net, hoping Kinkaid would make a move that would leave an opening. Kinkaid did not take the bait and Plekanec was left with no shot and behind the net with only enough room to shoot the puck on Kinkaid in the hopes it goes in off equipment. Kinkaid would win this battle.
The Czechs were in peak form in the period turning the tide. Michal Repik’s goal cut the lead to 2-1. His blast whizzed past Kinkaid into the net. Radek Faksa’s pass led to Repik’s one-timer that got the Czechs back in the game.
Team USA followed up almost immediately with Bonino tipping a point shot and nearly getting another whack at a puck in front on Francouz. Quinn Hughes, the youngest member of Team USA, couldn’t convert on a chance and Blake Coleman came closer still.
Team USA lost the lead when Martin Necas redirected a David Pastrnak shot to tie the game 2-2. Necas goal, scored at 10:55, was a power play goal.
"We expected a push from them today," Anders Lee said. "Obviously we'd rather not have them tie it up. But that's hockey. We just continued to play our game, and it paid off in the end."
The Czech came close to taking the lead when a 3-on-2 led to a Pastrnak shot that just went wide, hitting the side of the netting. After two periods, it was anyone’s game with the Czechs back in the mix. Despite outshooting the Czechs 14-8 in the period, the Czechs would be the team to score both goals in the frame.
Once again Patrick Kane was able to lift the Americans. Kane scored his second goal when he took the puck and faked out defenceman Filip Hronek, who fell to the ice, and created a 2-on-1. Kane opted for the shot and beat the netminder to make it 3-2 at 6:58 of the third.
Showing his tantalizing skillset, Kane attempted a spin-o-rama and able to get a shot off that hit the crossbar. His game was elevated and he was active in all zones.
The play favoured the Czechs down the stretch as they worked hard to get the equaliser but to no avail. The Americans are now heading to the semi-finals in Copenhagen.
"We have a lot of skilled players, this year more than usual," saids DeBrincat. "Everyone wants to win. We didn't come over here just to have a good time."