BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It wasn't the color medal the Americans came here to win, but the bronze-medal proved to be a more-than-adequate consolation prize for the defending champions.
It should be, considering how hard they had to work to earn third place, holding off Sweden, 4-2, on Wednesday afternoon at HSBC Arena.
"We were trying to make some kind of statement," said Kyle Palmieri, who had a pair of assists for the Americans. "We didn't want to go out of this tournament as a team that didn't show up when it mattered."
The U.S. team was thoroughly demoralized by Monday's semifinal loss to Canada, a 4-1 pasting that ended the Americans' hopes of winning gold again on home soil and threatened to send a team with almost unlimited potential into a death spiral.
Instead, the team regrouped during a brief practice Tuesday, spurred on by the opportunity to become part of USA Hockey history as part of the first team to medal in back-to-back World Junior Championships.
"USA Hockey has never medaled twice in a row, and to do it against a great Swedish team, there's a lot of positives to come out of this (victory)," said goalie Jack Campbell, who made 34 saves Wednesday, including 17 in the third period.
Campbell was certainly the backbone of the victory, making every big save the Americans needed on this day. He started right away in that department with his right-leg save against Calle Jankrok in the game's first minute -- on a Swedish power play -- setting the tone for what was to come.
"Jacko made a huge save on that kill and that is what sparked us," said Drew Shore, who took the penalty in question.
But the Americans have come to expect such heroics from Campbell, who backstopped the Americans in their gold-medal upset last year.
"He's just so driven, so focused," said defenseman John Merrill. "He hates to lose, hates to see anything in his net. I think the team really fed off him. He's a natural leader."
The Americans also fed off forward Chris Kreider, who used his world-class speed to score twice -- the tying goal in the second period and the insurance goal in the game's final minutes. That fourth goal was a thing of beauty, as Kreider used a burst to get behind the Swedish defense on a 2-on-1, then wristed a shot over the shoulder of goalie Fredrik Petersson Wentzel and into his water bottle sitting atop the net.
"He has such phenomenal speed and when he starts skating and cutting to open areas and demanding the puck, it makes it easier for the whole team,' Merrill said.
Petersson Wentzel was somewhat of a surprise starter after hot-shot prospect Robin Lehner, already playing in the American Hockey League, played against Russia in the semifinals and in a victory against the Canadians in pool play. But Petersson Wentzel played well in the game, stopping 40 shots.
"I think he gave us a chance to win tonight," Swedish coach Roger Ronnberg said.
Shore and Bjugstad both scored on tip-ins, after establishing themselves in the slot, for the Americans' other goals. Bjugstad's goal, with 8:20 left in the game, proved to be the game-winner and perfectly illustrated the change in the American game in the past 24 hours.
The passivity and lack of drive to the net that plagued them throughout the loss to Canada was replaced by a snarl and a willingness to get in on the forecheck and drive to the net.
"It was nice to get our heads up and play with some pride today," was how American captain John Ramage put it afterward.
That attitude certainly put the Swedes on their heels from the start. The Americans outshot Sweden 13-5 in the first period.
"They forced us away from the win," Ronnberg said. "My guys really wanted to battle for that gold medal. I think we just ran out of gas in the third."
In fact, the Swedes took the lead as Oscar Lindberg scored a goal from the seat of his pants at the 11:56 mark of the period. On the play, Carl Klingberg came steaming down the right side and fired a tester that Campbell pushed into the left circle. However, Lindberg got just enough of the puck as he fell to the ice to sweep it through Campbell's legs.
Swedish captain Anton Lander made things interesting for the final 5:42 of the game when he outmuscled defenseman Nick Leddy in the slot and was able to shovel his own rebound past Campbell, who had made a lightning-quick toe save on the first shot, to make it 3-2.
For the Swedes, the loss was a second straight gut punch; this one delivered 48 hours after the Russians delivered the first shot with a late two-goal rally to set up a victory in the shootout in the semifinals.
"It's a sad feeling," said alternate captain Fredrik Styrman, a defenseman. "In the third period (the Americans) just ran over us, but I thought we fought back hard. It's just a tough time. I'm very disappointed."