The Americans have claimed one of the four available spots for tomorrow’s semi-finals with an easy and dominating 7-0 win over the Czech Republic.
The pad-the-stats win sets up an all-North American re-match with Canada who beat the Americans 2-1 on December 30 in the round robin.
"We played the game we needed to play tonight. You haven't seen our best hockey," captain Jake McCabe said after the win. "The team that wins the tournament is the team that gets better every game. You have to improve every game. Playing Canada is going to be emotional again. We're going to be ready for it."
John Gaudreau led the scoring spree with a hat trick while defencemen Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba each collected four assists. John Gibson recorded the shutout by blocking 31 shots, and the team scored five power-play goals.
"The credit goes to my teammates," Gaudreau said. "I had a couple of pretty easy back-door shots. Coming down the stretch, heading into the semi-finals, it’s a good time to get hot. In the first couple of games of the tournament, I wasn’t putting the puck in the net. I was a little frustrated. But I’m happy that it’s coming right now."
The Czechs incurred 17 minors and one misconduct while the Americans were whistled for ten minors.
"It seemed like we were always killing penalties," said Petr Beranek. "We thought we could win if we played five-on-five, but we didn't play like a team."
Right from the opening faceoff the game had a feeling of inevitable outcome to it. The Americans didn’t come out trying to establish the forecheck or make big hits. They didn’t match lines or do anything spectacular. They simply skated with a confidence (fully justified) that they were the much better team and were going to win, even if they weren’t as sharp as they’ll need to be in the semi-finals, even if they took a few undisciplined penalties and didn’t play with great intensity. It takes two to tango, after all.
And the Czechs played the role of a team that tried hard but was destined to lose because they simply didn’t have the speed, puck skill, or strength as their opponents. Time and again they might have created an odd-man rush with a precise pass—and failed. The power play might have given them some life, but that, too, failed. Goalie Patrik Bartosak was helpless on the first three goals, was pulled, and watched as his replacement, Matej Machovsky, suffered the same fate.
The opening goal came on a power play towards the end of a string of minors which saw both teams play with an extra man for varying lengths. Trouba’s point shot was deflected by Czech defenceman Marek Hrbas, a play that might normally be considered excellent, except this time the puck slid right to Gaudreau. He had an open net to snap the puck into at 11:45 for the 1-0 lead. That was pretty much the only bit of excitement in a period in which nine penalties were called, five to the Czechs.
Just 28 seconds into the second period Gaudreau scored a goal almost identical to the first. A point shot pinballed behind the play where Gaudreau was stationed to the side of the net and swatted the puck home on the power play.
Forty seconds later the Americans put the game out of reach. Another Trouba shot was saved by Bartosak, but the rebound again came to the back side and Ryan Hartman put it into the open net. With few options to light a fire under his team, Czech coach Miroslav Prerost pulled Bartosak in favour of Machovsky.
If those first three goals might have seemed a little fluky, the Americans produced one of great quality at 8:44 to make it 4-0. On another power play, Alex Galchenyuk drove hard to the net, and at the moment everyone in the building thought he was going to fire the puck he made a great pass behind the play to Riley Barber who had nothing but net to shoot at.
This was followed by a goal at 12:13 by Barber on a breakaway. He calmly got a loose puck and went in alone on goal, the inevitability of him scoring seeming to begin the moment he collected the puck.
How poorly did the Czechs play? Late in the first they conceded two breakaways in the space of about 30 seconds, but Machovsky stoned first Rocco Grimaldi and then Tyler Biggs. Then Hartman made a sensational back pass to Blake Pietila, alone in front, and again Machovsky made a great save. The Czech defence wasn’t just out for lunch—it stayed out for dinner.
Gaudreau completed his hat trick at 19:47 of the second on another power opportunity—the team’s fourth man-advantage score--giving the Americans the opening set, 6-0.
J.T. Miller added another extra-man goal in the third.
And now the team heads to a familiar opponent and its greatest rival. "We're not just thinking of the opponent," Jones noted. "We're looking at this being the semi-finals of a huge tournament. We're going to put this win behind us and start preparing right now."
"It’s exciting," Gaudreau added. "I was excited to play them the first time, and it’s going to be even more exciting the second time in the semi-finals. It’s something you always dream about, playing in a USA-Canada game. Hopefully we beat them this time.
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)