Matej Blumel scored the game’s lone goal on a first-period breakaway and Karel Vejmelka stopped all 24 shots fired his way, including some tough ones in the closing minutes. In an all-NHL goaltending match-up, Jeremy Swayman at the other end stopped 15 of 16 Czech shots.
“It was a hell of a game for us, a huge three points,” said Vejmelka. “We played really well defensively, especially in the last period.”
“It was a tough game, they’re a good team,” said U.S. forward Adam Gaudette. “They’ve got a lot of solid, veteran skilled players over there. I thought we played hard, it was just one of those games where the puck wasn’t going in the net.”
Both teams entered the game tied with 10 points, with either team winning in regulation securing at least third place in Group B. Had the game been tied after 60 minutes, both teams would have been guaranteed at least fourth place and Latvia would have been eliminated. As it stands, the Latvians can still overtake the USA for fourth place if they beat Sweden and the Americans lose to Norway tomorrow.
With injuries to Jon Merrill and Nick Blankenburg, the USA went with only five defencemen for the second-straight game but still played very strong defensively. Once again, captain Seth Jones logged more than 30 minutes of ice time.
“You kinda get in the rhythm of things, you get that momentum and the legs feel good, so you just keep the shifts shorter and keep going,” said defenceman Adam Peeke, who logged 23:54.
This was probably Czechia’s best game so far, certainly from a defensive standpoint, with everyone buying into head coach Kari Jalonen’s system.
“He’s smart, he plans his plays for a five-man unit and that’s how we play,” forward Tomas Hertl said about the Finnish coach. “In the last few games we’ve played as a five-man unit and that’s why we’ve won three in a row because we get skating everywhere.”
The only goal came just shy of the eight-minute mark after Hynek Zohorna blocked Luke Hughes’ shot from the point. Zohorna then beat everybody to the puck in the neutral zone and found Blumel in full flight for a breakaway. The youngster beat Swayman on a forehand deke for his fourth goal of the tournament.
“We were at the end of a long shift and I saw Blumel skating up the ice,” said Zohorna. “All I had to do was give him the puck and Matej did the rest. It was beautiful. Winning 1-0 is fine. We played a solid 60 minutes as a team.”
The Czechs very nearly went up 2-0 with under three minutes to play in the opening period when David Pastrnak found David Krejci at the backdoor but the HC Olomouc centre hit the goalpost. Then in the dying seconds of the period, Matthew Boldy nearly scored for the USA on a backhand in close but he hit the base of the post, with Vejmelka clearing the airborne puck out of danger with is blocker.
The Czechs got another breakaway midway through the second period when Jakub Vrana used his skate to redirect a pass to Jiri Smejkal; however, Hughes made a great defensive play to knock the puck off Smejkal’s stick before he could get a shot off.
Early in the third period, Kieffer Bellows was assessed a major penalty for an elbow on Radim Simek. The Czechs registered four shots in the five minutes and had some great chances to widen their lead, but ultimately failed to do so.
With 11 minutes to play, the top Czech line got another great chance – this time it was Krejci to Pastrnak for the one-timer but Swayman slid across to make the blocker save.
“It’s awesome having a goalie like that behind us,” Peake said about Swayman. “There are going to be breakdowns throughout the game and having him back there making key saves is huge. That’s going to be big for us moving forward in this tournament.”
In the last eight minutes, the Americans began really pressing for the equalizer, and turned up the head when they went to the power play with 6:25 to go. Their best chance came when Boldy attempted to redirect a pass from T.J. Tynan for a Seth Jones tap-in but the puck hit the American captain’s skate at the edge of the crease.
With two minutes to play, Swayman went to the bench for a sixth attacker as the Americans continued to press, but Vejmelka held on for the victory and his first World Championship shutout.
“I feel better and better every day, every game, every minute on the ice,” said Vejmelka, who was pulled from his first start of the tournament against Sweden but has now recorded three straight wins. “It’s a different style of hockey here than in the NHL, so now I’m feeling so much more comfortable than at the beginning of the tournament.”
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s game against Finland with a chance to finish first or second in Group B, Vejmelka added: “It’s a great opportunity for us. We have to play the same style of game tomorrow and get three more points.”
As for the USA’s must-win game against Norway, Peeke said: “I think we just regroup tonight, watch a little bit of video in the morning. It was a good game we played, it was 1-0, we were one shot away, so we just gotta find a way to bounce back and get a win.”