MINSK, Belarus - Never was the belief that a team “creates its own luck” more evident than on Team USA’s opening goal – just 19 seconds into its pivotal 3-1 victory over Finland.
Seth Jones fired the puck high into Finland’s corner from center ice. It caromed, nearly miraculously, off the stanchion and perfectly onto Brock Nelson’s stick in front of the goal. With Finnish goalie Pekka Rinne caught badly out of position behind the net, Nelson scored an easy goal.
“I was aiming for the stanchion,” Jones joked about the goal. “From playing with Pekka last year (with Nashville) and in our pre-scouting, we know he comes out and plays all the pucks so that was kind of what was on my mind – get it high on the glass. It took a crazy bounce – it was almost too easy.”
“I’ve never had a goal like that,” Nelson said about the tap-in goal. “It’s nice to get one of those from the ‘hockey gods.’”
Nelson’s goal would stand for more than 46 minutes as the only one in a tight, defensive battle, until Tyler Johnson fired a rocket wrist shot top shelf past Rinne 6:42 into the third period. The Tampa Bay Lightning forward sealed the U.S. victory with an empty-net goal with 46 seconds left in the game, just 2:18 after Finland trimmed the lead to one.
“I thought today was a solid 60-minute effort by our team,” said Johnson, who leads the team with four goals in the tournament. “Luckily for me, Smitty (Craig Smith) made a great play on our second goal to allow me to get some speed, cut to the middle of the ice, use the D-man as a screen and it found a way in.”
The U.S. put forth an impressive defensive effort in which it blocked numerous shots, kept sticks in passing lanes, and went shoulder-to-shoulder physically with the feisty Finns. Perhaps creating a bit of luck yet again, the U.S. benefited from Finland fanning on a variety of shots from close range.
“I thought we blocked a ton of shots tonight,” Jones said. “We were laying the body out on the line and I think we really tightened up defensively.”
“The guys knew and respected the game we had to play tonight and to their credit they played their tails off,” said U.S. Head Coach Peter Laviolette. “Our defense was fantastic; coming back hard to our end, blocking shots, tying up sticks on a second chances and Tim Thomas was fantastic.”
Thomas sprawled and scrambled to deny 22 of 23 shots for his fourth victory of the tournament. The 40-year-old goaltender would have recorded a shutout if not for an unfortunate deflection off Connor Murphy’s stick as the U.S. defenseman was trying to block a Finnish shot.
“The team stepped up and played really good D in front of me,” said Thomas, who is playing in his seventh world championship. “I’m just proud of this young group of D in front of me.”
“All credit is given to him, he makes huge saves every night,” Jones said of his 21-years elder teammate.
It was definitively a character win for Team USA (3-1-0-2, W-OTW-OTL-L), a victory that will enable it to advance to the IIHF World Championship quarterfinal should Germany falter to undefeated Russia tonight.
“It was a very important win for us,” Thomas said. “These are the ones that you look back on.”
Laviolette added: “It was a real good team win for us at this part of the tournament.”
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