The U.S. rallied from a 4-0 third-period deficit, but Adam Boqvist scored the overtime winner for a 5-4 victory to extend Sweden's preliminary-round winning streak to 47 games on Saturday.
"I thought about it before the overtime there," admitted captain Erik Brannstrom. "It’s nice to see it go in – 47 straight, it’s fun to see."
It was a thrilling finish that truly embodied the spirit of the IIHF World Junior Championship. With the teams playing 3-on-3, Boqvist, a Chicago Blackhawks first-rounder who plays defence for the OHL's London Knights, finished off a nice give-and-go rush with Lucas Elvenes at 3:51.
The Juniorkronorna, who earned the silver medal last year, can make it 48 straight victories and clinch the group with a win over Kazakhstan on New Year’s Eve. The streak dates back to the 2007 World Juniors.
"We’ve got to win in two days against Kazakhstan, but if we do that, we’re going to stay here [for the quarter-finals]," said Sweden's Rickard Hugg. "For sure it’s nice to stay here, have our locker room, stay at the same hotel and not have to move."
In regulation time, Sweden's Emil Bemstrom and Filip Westerlund had a goal and an assist apiece. Brannstrom, who leads all defencemen in scoring, added his fourth goal. Hugg also scored, and David Gustafsson added a pair of assists.
"We played two periods pretty well," said Bemstrom. "We did a pretty bad third period. We let them come into the game, but we won, so I’m happy."
The U.S got all four of its goals with a wild third-period rally in the last 11 minutes. Ryan Poehling scored a late natural hat trick, including two last-minute goals in 13 seconds, and added an assist. Captain Mikey Anderson also scored. Alexander Chmelevski and Oliver Wahlstrom added two helpers apiece.
The U.S., which is seeking its first gold medal since 2017, will face Finland on New Year's Eve at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.
Swedish netminder Samuel Ersson won his third straight start, while Kyle Keyser, who played in the 2-1 tournament-opening victory over Slovakia, took the loss for America. Shots favoured Sweden 33-29.
Jack Hughes missed his second consecutive game for precautionary reasons. The Americans hope to have the 17-year-old forward, considered the top prospect for this year’s draft, back in the lineup for the elimination games.
"We could have used him tonight for sure," said top U.S. defenceman Quinn Hughes, Jack's older brother. "That would have been his type of game. I don’t mean to get ahead of myself, but I think he probably could have dominated that game. I know no one’s more upset about it than him. He’s getting better every day. I’m hoping he’ll be back really soon."
Keyser came up big near the four-minute mark, stoning Jacob Olofsson from the slot. But he couldn’t stop Westerlund from drawing first blood at 4:47. Samuel Fagemo snared the puck inside the U.S. blue line and slid it right over to Westerlund, who skated in and beat the goalie glove side.
Reflecting the cross-border rivalry between Canada and the U.S., the Victoria crowd of 6,602 chanted, “Let’s go, Sweden!” The Swedes got a 5-on-3 for 1:56 after Josh Norris took a cross-checking minor and Dylan Samberg promptly shot the puck over the glass. But Monten’s boys were ineffective, overpassing the puck and handing it away to the Americans.
At 12:39, Sweden made it 3-0. Quinn Hughes turned the puck over at the red line and Gustafsson moved it up to Bemstrom for a breakaway. He deked and backhanded the puck through Keyser’s legs for his third goal of the tournament.
"We weren’t handling the puck the way we need to," said Anderson. "We had countless turnovers just going through the middle."
In the third period, Brannstrom appeared to have put the game out of reach at 2:33, waltzing off the goal line to roof a backhander home. But the fun was just beginning.
The Americans kicked off their comeback with power play prowess. First, they spoiled Ersson's shutout bid at 9:34 when Anderson pounded a one-timer from the right faceoff circle through the goalie's legs.
Isac Lundestrom took an undisciplined roughing penalty and his team paid the price at 13:25. Chmelevski skimmed a perfect pass to Poehling on the doorstep and he banged it in.
Then Poehling scored twice on high shots, with Keyser pulled for the extra attacker, at 19:23 and 19:36, setting the stage for an exciting, back-and-forth overtime.
"In those last 10 minutes, everything switched," said Anderson. "We started playing heavier, getting pucks behind their D, getting after it, throwing pucks at the net. I think we doubled our shots in the last 10 minutes."
"We’ve got to show a little bit of pride and I think we did that," added Poehling. "We ended up losing but I think it’s going to help us out in the long run."
The Swedes have now won three out of their last four games against the U.S. The last American win over Sweden was an 8-3 shellacking in the 2016 World Junior bronze medal game.