Team USA and Jack Eichel won Group B at the world championships, but it wasn’t easy.
The Americans were streaky and sloppy in its 5-4 overtime win over Slovakia to close out the preliminary round of the 2015 IIHF World Hockey Championships. It wasn’t pretty, but the Americans got the job done to set up a showdown with Switzerland in the quarterfinals
Team USA got off to a fast start with a pair of goals early. The first score came two minutes, 36 seconds into the game when Ben Smith tipped in a John Moore point shot.
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The Americans then got a second goal on the power play when Eichel made a great pass to a cutting Seth Jones. The goal came at 4:11 and chased Slovakia goalie Jan Laco. Slovakia brought in Julius Hudacek to relieve him.
Team USA almost went up 3-0 when Dylan Larkin rang a shot off the post nearly nine minutes into the period. The Americans continued the pressure, but did not get a third goal in the frame.
Slovakia was undisciplined and took some really silly penalties. The second USA goal came after Marian Gaborik was sent to the penalty box for slashing.
Team USA started the second period just like the first with an early goal. Anders Lee tipped in a Justin Faulk point shot to give the Americans a seemingly safe 3-0 lead just 27 seconds into the second period.
However, that’s when the game changed. Slovakia got on the board when Gaborik got a power-play marker 6:29 into the period to make it 3-1. The Slovaks were energized by the semi-home crowd, and made it 3-2 after Adam Janosik’s shot deflected off of the stick of Brock Nelson.
Vladimir Dravecky put home a rebound and sent the pro-Slovak crowd in Ostrava into a frenzy. The Americans were again victimized by the defense not clearing out a rebound in front of goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
Slovakia then scored its fourth straight goal to make it 4-3 after Milan Bartovic beat Hellebuyck. The goal was made possible by a superb feed from Dominik Granak.
The young Americans quickly struck back after new guy Charlie Coyle scored just 46 seconds after Slovakia took the lead. Coyle’s goal would be the third tip-in goal by Team USA.
The game tightened up and tempers began to boil over when two separate scrapes between the Slovaks and the Americans.
I think it was just two teams battling for the win,” Anders Lee said. “Both teams really wanted it and sometimes tempers flare a little bit and you get into guys. It’s part of the game and I don’t think anyone took offence.”
Coyle and Steve Moses missed late chances to get the Americans the full three points.
It looked the game would go to a shootout, but Team USA phenom and potential second overall pick Jack Eichel fired in a shot from the side boards past Hudacek.
The goal came with 28 seconds left and showcased the great individual skills of Eichel. Trevor Lewis provided enough of a screen so Eichel’s shot could slip into the goal.
Team USA Game Notes
- The Americans continued to rely on a strong forecheck to cause turnovers. Team USA may not have experience, but they’re speed helps them out.
- Three of the four goals came on deflections. It’s good to see the U.S. just put traffic in front and cause goalies to have to work to make saves.
- Team USA’s defense did not do a good job clearing out rebounds during Slovakia’s surge.
- Four goals was the most that Hellebuyck has given up in a game.
- Vancouver Canucks forward Nick Bonino left the game in the second period with an arm injury after crashing into the net.
Quarterfinals Vs. Switzerland
Thursday, May 14
9:15 a.m. EDT
Will be shown on NBCSN, along with all other Team USA games.
Dan Mount is a Nashville Predators staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter, @DanMountSports.