MINSK, Belarus - Victory was preserved by a brilliant Tim Thomas glove save with under six seconds remaining and Switzerland attacking six-on-four as the U.S. held off its feisty opponents, 3-2. For Team USA, it was the second win in two nights at the 2014 IIHF World Championship.
“I actually thought there was more time on the clock; I didn’t realize it was that close to the game being over, which was probably a good thing because it could have made you more nervous,” Thomas said, on a night which he stopped 27 of 29 Swiss shots. “Fortunately, it was one of those reflex saves that if you thought about it, you probably wouldn’t make.”
Saturday night’s immensely thrilling and wild contest had just about everything a hockey fan could wish for: end-to-end action, numerous odd-man rushes, gutsy blocked shots, turnovers, spectacular saves, hard-hitting, melees after the whistle, and even a little bit of controversy.
“It was ultra-competitive, intense out there, stuff after the whistle,” said U.S. captain Justin Abdelkader. “I thought we found ways to battle back, we got timely goals and really good goaltending out of Tim.”
“It was exciting hockey for sure, the fans were really into it,” said U.S. defenseman Seth Jones. “People are blocking shots, people are laying their bodies on the line to win games. We know how important these preliminary round games are for positioning in the medal round.”
The swift-moving and skilled Swiss squad matched the U.S. intensity and physicality with numerous scrums resulting after whistles, two of which captain Justin Abdelkader was involved in protecting Thomas.
“They were bringing it early and the refs were letting a lot of that stuff go, so we’ve got to take care of our stuff too.” Abdelkader said. “We’re not going to let them come in and push us around, especially around our net in front of Timmy.”
“Sometimes you have to get a little bit more physical than you want to win games,” added Jones.
While both teams were highly aggressive offensively, taking numerous chances often resulting in odd-man rushes, the U.S. outshot the Swiss 38-29.
Trailing 2-1 entering the third, Craig Smith (power play) and Tyler Johnson scored for the U.S., the latter coming off a nice move down low and perfect pass from Jones. Johnson’s game-winning tally came with 6:45 remaining.
Two third period Swiss goals – one with just over 11 minutes left and the other with under six minutes – were disallowed because of offside calls, both of which were protested vehemently.
Forward Peter Mueller – who spent this past season playing in the Swiss League – scored Team USA’s first goal six minutes into the second period on a breakaway, being sprung by a pinpoint pass from Tim Stapleton. Mueller said it was a tough, but fun game to be a part of.
“These are the games that you like to play in, every minute you really have to focus because it was such a fast-paced game and if you take one shift off anything can happen,” Mueller said of the seesaw affair. “I think the end of the game just sums it up, how hard these teams fought all the way down to the save by Tim Thomas with five second left.”
Abdelkader characterized Team USA’s triumph best: “the guys battled their butts off tonight. It’s a great win, hopefully one that can propel us to move forward in the standings.”