Group B of the World Cup of Hockey got underway last night with Russia taking on Sweden and the kids of North America facing off against a strong team from Finland.
First on the bill was the Russians and the Swedes, a matchup that on paper looked like it’d be a close contest and that’s exactly the way it went.
Sweden were without starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist through illness which made way for Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom to get the start and he had one of his best games of his young career.
Both sides played to a scoreless first period, Sweden outshot Russia 10 – 8 over the opening 20 minutes, then midway through the second the opening goal came.
With Vadim Shipachyov of SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL in the box for Russia, Sweden went to the power play and it took only seconds for them to make use of it. Nicklas Backstrom won the faceoff back to Erik Karlsson who played a pass across to Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog who fired a one-time slapshot past Sergei Bobrovsky to give the Swedes a one goal lead.
Just minutes later, Sweden were back on the scoreboard an offensive turnover led to Victor Hedman skating into the slot, and after a nice pass from Carl Hagelin was finished by Hedman to give Sweden a two goal cushion going into the final period of play.
Russia left it late to try and come back, with Bobrovsky pulled and less than a minute to go, Alex Ovechkin fired a wrist shot from the point through a sea of bodies and past Markstrom to pull it back to within one.
Then with 7 seconds left, Ovechkin celebrated after he thought he’d tied the game. A shot by Vladimir Taransenko was blocked by Markstrom, then Ovechkin reached up to grab the puck and then he thought it dropped down to his stick and into the net, but instead video replayed showed it came off his glove ruling it no goal and allowed Sweden to hold off a late surge to take a win in their first game of the tournament.
After Sweden took a victory in the early game, their neighbours Finland took to the ice to take on North America, a team of Canadians and Americans under the age of 23, and this game wasn’t as close as the game before.
It didn’t take long for North America to open their account, Auston Matthews was on the ice when he crossed the blueline, put the puck on net and Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel crashed the net, jamming in the rebound to give the kids an early lead on the powerplay.
Just over a minute later, North America thought they had doubled their lead after the puck trickled between the legs of Pekka Rinne but was stopped crossing the line by a great defensive effort by Ville Pokka. North America came close again towards the end of the period, with the puck waiting to be tapped over the line, Mark Scheifele pushed the defense into Rinne, forcing the puck over the line but the goal was ruled out for goaltender interference.
Rinne managed to stop 12 of 13 shots in the opening frame but didn’t have as much luck in the second period. Five minutes into the period Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau tipped a shot by Colton Parayko into the net to give the kids a 2 – 0 lead.
Two minutes later and it was Jonathan Drouin who was celebrating, an initial save by Rinne was picked up by Drouin and tapped into the net.
Before the period was out, the kids were up by four after Drouin’s former Halifax Mooseheads teammate in the QMJHL Nathan MacKinnon picked up another juicy rebound, rounding Rinne and making it 4 – 0 after 40 minutes.
Finland avoided the shutout as Valtteri Filppula finished off a play that began with great fore-checking by Leo Komarov, the loose puck was picked up by Jussi Jokinen and fed out front to Filppula to finish off the game with North America winning 4 – 1.
North America used their speed and skill to dazzle and dominate the Finns, outshooting them 43 – 25, setting themselves up well for their next meeting against Russia tonight.
With North America taking on Russia in the late game tonight, Europe take on the Czech Republic in the early game, while theirs two rivalry games tomorrow with Finland and Sweden before Canada take on USA.