In a game that saw a whopping 87 shots on goal, a penalty shot, nine power plays and nearly five minutes of 3 on 3 overtime and yet words and numbers can’t describe what was seen on the ice during Wednesday’s final group stage tilt between Sweden and North America. Never mind the absolutely jaw dropping finish which saw Nathan MacKinnon toe drag and backhand shelf the game winner in overtime past Henrik Lundqvist.
The game got off to an explosive start when Auston Matthews scored for North America 30 seconds into the contest off of a speedy play from Morgan Reilly and Connor McDavid. The floodgates remained open long enough for North America to earn an unconverted penalty shot from Johnny Gaudreau and a nice backhand goal by Vincent Trocheck all within the first 1:35 of the game. The tone was set early that North America came to play and was determined not to let their tournament end at the group stage.
Sweden got back in the game with a goal from Filip Forsberg at 8:24 in the first period. Meanwhile Johnny Gaudreau got a chance to avenge that missed penalty shot with a converted breakaway at 13:57 before Nicklas Backstom cut the lead again at 16:28 in the first. A lot of action for a Swedish team who likes to play very structured and does not give up a lot of chances and goals. The line of MacKinnon, Gaudreau and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins started to heat up and create chances as well.
A scoreless second period occurred, which however was not devoid of action thanks to several power plays and chances at either end of the ice. In the third period at 6:50 Patrik Berglund tied the game at three with a classic high slot tip off of an Erik Karlsson shot, which earned Carl Soderberg an assist as well. Soderberg and Landeskog were counted on for some defensive work, penalty kill and were cycling the puck well as their line got rewarded with a strong effort. As the clocked ticked down to the end of regulation, Sweden knew all they needed to do was to hang on and earn the one point, which was enough to send them on to the semi-final round.
The story of overtime began with a lot of back and forth action as each team held on to possession of the puck and traded some fantastic chances. As the period started to wind down, Daniel Sedin missed a wide open shot and suddenly at the other end of the ice Gaudreau stole the puck and fed MacKinnon all alone in front of Lundqvist. What happened next was pure magic as MacKinnon toe dagged around Lundqvist’s poke check and buried the puck backhand top shelf at 4:11 in the period.
It is a crying shame if this is the end of team North America’s run at the World Cup, yet almost fitting that a team whose product turned out even more exciting than advertised could end on such a thrilling play involving one of the league’s young stars. North America proved that a team comprised entirely of youth would measure up to and withstand the experience, maturity and size of the other countries. Hopefully these six games have been enough to convince the NHL that this type of team needs to remain in the tournament going forward. If not, at the very least should show the other countries what happens when youth is injected into a best on best competition and that it is not always about a hierarchy and previously set values firmly in place.
In the meantime, North America must now await the outcome of Thursday’s Russia vs. Finland game needing Russia to suffer the loss in that contest. For the good of the league and just pure fans of hockey let’s hope we get to see this group on the ice one more time.
MacKinnon (NA): 1 goal, 6 shots, 18:21 TOI, 6/4 FO
Landeskog (SWE): 0 points, 2 shots, 12:24 TOI, 0/1 FO
Soderberg (SWE): 1 assist, 2 shots, 10:26 TOI, 5/5 FO
Both Sweden and North America play the waiting game before determining their next opponent. Sweden clinched the top seed in Group B and will play Sunday at 11am MST (ESPN) and face the loser between the Canada vs. Europe match later on Wednesday. North America needs Russia to lose in any fashion to Finland on Thursday before they can clinch the second seed in group B and play Saturday at 5pm MST (ESPN2) against the winner of the Canada vs. Europe game.