A young USA team sprang a surprise to down the highly-fancied Czechs in a shoot-out. Auston Matthews’ decisive goal snapped a tense 1-1 tie in the quarter final to send the Americans to the final four for the second year in a row.
He added to his goal in regulation, beating Dominik Furch at the near post, before Keith Kinkaid added to his 31 saves in the game by blocking Tomas Zohorna’s effort.
“I just wanted to open his legs, go five-hole,” Matthews said. “I was able to sneak it in there, so it worked out.”
The outcome was harsh on Furch, who repeatedly saved the Czechs in overtime. A smart reaction save denied Jordan Schroeder in the 62nd minute and the Avangard Omsk shotstopper was alert again to gather the rebound from a Brock Nelson effort as the sticks flew in front of him. Next it was Tyler Motte’s turn to feel the frustration when Furch stopped him on the doorstep with three minutes to play before finally Chris Wideman blazed a glorious chance over the bar in the last minute of an additional session that the Americans dominated.
Earlier though, it was America’s Kinkaid who impressed, standing in the way of a Czech attack that only faded in overtime.
But the goalie paid tribute to the efforts of all his teammates in securing the victory. “It could have gone either way,” he said. “We were focused and now we have a chance for a medal. We have to keep our energy up.
“Everyone is a hero for us today. Everyone was in there blocking shots, playing hard.”
The first period got off to a slow start, with neither side able or willing to commit to a big offense in a game where any lapse on the blue line could be enough to send a team home.
Even when the Czech Republic got a power play early on – Matthews called for high sticking – it did not provoke a surge of activity around Kinkaid’s goal.
But late in the period the Czechs took the lead on their own penalty kill Zohorna burst forward, only to be hooked back by Patrick Maroon. From the resultant penalty shot the Amur Khabarovsk forward sold the deke to Kinkaid before finishing emphatically.
USA captain Nick Foligno admitted that his team had been in a tough game. “They are well-oiled and they made sure we had a hard day. But we just stuck with it, we got a goal at a good time and we had some great goaltending,” he said.
The middle frame was much livelier as the USA posed far more of an attacking threat. And it took less than 90 seconds for Matthews, the latest American prodigy, to tie the game with a goal befitting his status as a potential #1 draft pick. After gliding past Radim Simek like the Czech defenceman wasn’t there, Matthews got to the top of the crease and stuffed the puck through the five-hole to make it 1-1.
The Czechs rallied at once, with Roman Cervenka showing great technique to get a shot away through his own legs. Kinkaid got behind that, and also produced a sharp blocker save to deny Tomas Filippi when the Metallurg Magnitogorsk man surged down the right and found the American defence backing off.
But it wasn’t one-way traffic: Matthews dinged on off the bar from the top of the circle with Furch heavily screened.
As the Czechs ran into penalty trouble early in the third, team USA looked to capitalize but struggled to really test Furch, who continued his impressive form between the piping.
“The offense has to find a way to get going, we can’t rely on 1-1 games in the semis and finals, we have to find a way to get goals,” added Foligno. “That’s something we’re going to talk about but our defense is why we won today.”
Time ticked on and both teams became more cautious, aware that the next goal was likely to be decisive. With two well-drilled defenses on display, game-winning chances were hard to come by even when the USA took a bench penalty with six minutes to play. The game drifted inevitably towards overtime – and Matthews’ decisive contribution.