Photo Credit: Dan Hamlton/USA TODAY SPORTS
We wanted fast paced, high energy hockey, and boy, did we ever get it. This was a game that not only lived up to expectation but pulled up the rest of the games surrounding it to really drive home the World Cup of Hockey’s entertainment value, if not its oft-debated “legitimacy”. A quick run of goals for the Russians gave the young North Americans the chance to attempt a comeback for the ages, and they almost pulled it off but fell just short in a 4-3 defeat.
Things initially looked good for the kids, when Mark Scheifele, Connor McDavid, and Auston Matthews combined on a dazzling goal just five minutes into the first period. But at the start, Russia had played them reasonably close, fighting attempt with attempt while Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Murray both remained sharp.
Ultimately, one of the goaltenders, both entering their second game of a back-to-back, was due to crack first. In this case, it was the younger Murray, who had played the evening game 24 hours before as well. Vladislav Namestnikov grabbed a rebound in front of the net, and while he initially found iron, the puck bounced off of Murray’s skate and into the back of the net midway through the second period. Nikita Kucherov followed up with a goal of his own 50 seconds later.
North America was down, but not out at this point. But the next five minutes brought the moment from setback to disaster, as Evgeny Kuznetsov turned some angry energy carried over from interactions with Mark Scheifele and Sean Couturier into an end-to-end rush to make it 3-1, and Vladimir Tarasenko added another two minutes later.
Murray was yanked. In came John Gibson. Suddenly, doubt was cast on the North Americans. But they weren’t ready to head out without a fight. Morgan Rielly ripped a shot from the point to bring the kids back to within two with time left in the second period.
What followed was one of the most entertaining periods of hockey you’ll ever see. The North Americans clearly had gas in the tank and did absolutely anything they could to change the course of the game. They cycled, they fired, they pushed and shoved and simply seemed to be a little bit ahead of the Russians with every possible puck decision.
Eventually, it worked out again. This time, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins batted home a rebound in front of the net, instigated by Colton Parayko’s point shot and Nathan MacKinnon’s initial attempt. Hungry for more, the North Americans kept firing, hellbent on finishing the task at hand.
But it wasn’t meant to be. Even with a couple of powerplays including a 5-on-3, Bobrovsky’s composure came back and pucks were moved to the outside by clearing defenders before they could get loose in high-danger areas. North America even pulled Gibson for the extra man with two minutes to go and had a 6-on-4 opportunity when Dimitry Orlov was penalized with 41 seconds remaining, but it came to no avail.
Overall, it was a very good night for the players representing our many teams across this network. Oilers fans got to see McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins make big contributions to two of the three goals, Leafs fans saw Rielly, Zaitsev, and Matthews get on the scoresheet with meaningful minutes aplenty. Flames fans got a point out of Gaudreau, Jets fans got to see Trouba draw into the lineup while Scheifiele grabbed an assist and caused trouble. As for Red Wings fans, well, Marchenko and Larkin were on the ice, and Canucks fans got to enjoy the rest of their evening knowing that they avoided seeing Luca Sbisa in the previous game as well.
North America will play their next game on Wednesday afternoon when they take on the Swedes at 3PM local time.