MINSK, Belarus - Tyler Johnson scored two goals in a span of thirteen seconds late in the third period to give Team USA a chance.
The U.S. showed character and resilience, battling to the final second with a sense of urgency, leaving it all on the ice in a 4-3 loss to the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals of the 2014 IIHF World Championship.
It made for a thrilling finish, but it wasn’t enough.
“Maybe we hit two posts in the last minute and had five or six chances on net, but it just didn’t happen for us,” said U.S. defenseman Seth Jones.
With goalie Tim Thomas pulled for an extra attacker and 1:10 left in the contest, Johnson scored the first of his two late goals to trim the Czech lead to two.
Thirteen seconds later, Johnson found the back of the net again thanks to Craig Smith, who fought off a Czech defender on the right wing and delivered to his linemate in front of the net.
“We just wanted to put pucks on net and see what happens,” Smith said. “That was our motto coming out for the third period. It just so happened that it was late in the game that we got our best chances.”
Team USA had new life with 57 seconds on the clock, however it couldn’t bury the equalizer. Two last-ditch effort shots by Smith were stopped on their way to the net.
“We did as well as we could there in the final minute, but we couldn’t get the third one,” said Johnson, who contributed a team-best six goals in the tournament. “I think that shows a lot of character, but I wish they would have come a little sooner.”
“We had no give-up, no quit in the room and we knew that after the second period it was still anyone’s game, but we were just one goal too short,” said Jones, who ended the tournament with 11 points (2-9), which ranked first on the U.S. roster.
At 6:41 of the second period, everything changed and the U.S. dug itself a deep hole. With the game knotted at one, U.S. captain Justin Abdelkader hit Vladimir Sobotka in the right circle as the Czech forward clanked a shot off the outside post. Abdelkader was assessed five minutes for charging and received a game misconduct penalty.
“It’s unfortunate that it happened,” said U.S head coach Peter Laviolette. “Abdelkader is a character, hard-working guy and that’s not his reputation.”
“Big hits are big hits; he had his head down coming across and we don’t think it’s a penalty, but it’s not our call,” said Smith, one of the team’s alternate captains.
The Czechs capitalized on the five-minute advantage, scoring twice in a matter of 75 seconds to seize a 3-1 lead. Eight minutes later, they tallied another power-play goal to go up by three.
Although the Czechs sat back in a neutral zone trap, the U.S. created chances in the third period – managing 17 shots on goal – exploding for the two late tallies in the final 1:10 of the contest.
“There are two ways you can go in life when you are faced with adversity and our guys chose the right one tonight,” Laviolette said. “We just didn’t get the results we wanted.”
Team USA, which featured the youngest squad in the tournament, ended the championship with a record of 4-1-0-3 (W-OTW-OTL-L) finishing second in Group B behind Russia, and having played eight games over a period of 14 days.
Despite the loss at Chizhovka Arena that ended the U.S. medal hopes, numerous players said the tournament was a highly positive, beneficial, international experience. Fifteen members of the youthful U.S. squad were competing at their first world championship.
“It was a great experience, I think a lot of young guys stepped up and played big roles,” said Brock Nelson, who gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead 6:54 into the contest and finished second on the team with five goals in the tournament.
“It’s disappointing to lose today, but I’m really proud of the way we played in this tournament,” Laviolette said. “A lot of our young guys responded in a real positive way.”
“I think it was a lot of fun, a valuable experience for me,” said the Tampa Bay Lightning rookie of the year candidate Johnson. “I really enjoyed my time here and Belarus was an unbelievable place to visit.”
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