After turning in a clunker in their round robin matchup, round two of Canada vs. the United States at the 2016 World Hockey Championships more than lived up to its billing.
As expected, the two teams showed their disdain for one another throughout the game, getting things started in the first with some hard hits and many a scrum. To the surprise of none, Canada’s Brad Marchand was front and centre in most scrums – either initiating them or joining late to pour more gas on the fire.
Beyond the physicality of the period, the opening frame was a two-part story: The Americans, at the outset, taking the play to the Canadians and getting the majority of chances; the Canadians, in response, dominating play for much of the remainder of the period and generating an array of quality scoring chances – many coming courtesy of their grinders.
It was the often undersized but never outhustled Brendan Gallagher who took advantage of one of the many Canadian chances, crashing the net and, from his stomach, chipping the puck over Keith Kinkaid. Marchand, frustrating the Americans even more later in the period, finished off a beautiful give and go with Cody Ceci to double Canada’s lead to 2-0 at the intermission.
The lead didn’t come without work in the defensive end, however, as the Americans showed great resolve following each Canadian goal, making Cam Talbot work for his first period shutout. By the end of the period – after the two Canadian goals, numerous scoring chances and back-and-forth action – the two teams were tied on the shot clock at 12 apiece.
But, as they have for much of the tournament, the Canadians came out flat to start the second period, compounded by the fact they started the period on the penalty kill. So poor was Canada’s play that the team not only surrendered its two-goal lead, but actually faced a deficit – all before the mid-way point of the period.
Auston Matthews added to his team leading point total, firing a rocket from the point on the power play to get the United States on the board, followed soon after by a goal from David Warsofsky (one that was originally waved off when it looked as though he found iron). Tyler Motte then staked his team to a lead, finishing a one-timer off a great feed from Dylan Larkin.
In what was a lacklustre offensive period for 15 minutes or so for Canada, Derick Brassard bailed out his teammates as he converted on his team’s first power play of the game (coming after a Connor Murphy hit from behind) to once again pull the game into a tie. Despite the three American goals it was actually Canada who held a slight 11-10 edge in shots in the period.
The diminutive Ryan Ellis, joining his other small-statured teammates Gallagher and Marchand, helped Canada re-gain the lead by unleashing a bomb from just inside the blue line only 1:34 into the third stanza. An undisciplined penalty from Mark Scheifele seconds later gave the Americans the chance to tie the game yet again, but Canada stood firm and killed it off.
But the United States kept pressing, cycling the puck and hemming the Canadians in their zone for almost the entire period, keeping Canada on its heels and unable to add to its lead. But Talbot, who turned in perhaps his best outing of the tournament under the circumstances, kept the Americans at bay, stopping all 11 shots while his team struggled to register four.
It wasn’t the best game for the Canadians – the likes of Matt Duchene, Taylor Hall and Mark Stone, some of Canada’s leading scorers, failed to generate any offence, while Connor McDavid and Brassard managed only a point each – but they managed to set up a re-match with Finland with a chance to repeat as champs.
The gold medal game goes May 22 at 1:15 EST.
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