EDMONTON -- The Canadian National Junior Team can breathe a sigh of relief -- and perhaps celebrate for a few hours.
On the night the Canadians finished unbeaten in Group B at the World Junior Championship, they also defeated their archrivals across the border for the eighth time in the last nine meetings.
That said, Canada needed to exert every ounce of energy to stave off a furious third-period rally by Team USA en route to a 3-2 victory in the final game of preliminary-round action before 16,647 at Rexall Place.
It was probably just the game Canada coach Don Hay needed prior to his semifinal-round game on Tuesday at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.
"Whenever you deal with adversity, it's good for you," Hay said. "You really see some things from your players when the game is on the line and how they think the game. If they get into that situation again, we should be ready."
The Americans fought valiantly after falling behind 3-0 in the first, paring the deficit to one on third-period goals by Charlie Coyle at 9:49 and Jason Zucker at 13:12. But it wasn't enough as Canadian goalie Scott Wedgewood turned back 30 shots in recording his second victory in as many starts for his country.
"It was important to jump on them quickly … they had a pretty tough loss [Friday] and we wanted to get on them early," said Mark Stone, Canada's leading scorer. "It was a good jump-start for us. In all four games so far, we've gotten the first goal. So nothing changes going forward. We just want to make sure we're mentally ready to start every game."
The U.S. comeback was made possible by the goaltending of Jack Campbell, who finished with 32 saves. In the end, the veteran of three WJC tournaments saluted his teammates.
"People will say we don't have a lot of character in the room for the way we finished [preliminary-round play with three losses]," Campbell said. "But we do have a lot of character; it's tough to come into this building and play the best in the world in Canada. But we came in here and every single guy played their hearts out. We tried to do everything we could to get a win but you have to be proud of the effort everyone put in."
Stone, Jaden Schwartz and Brett Connolly scored in the first period, when Canada took 19 shots while grabbing a 3-0 lead. The quick start against an opponent that had dropped a disheartening 5-2 decision to the Czech Republic less than 24 hours earlier was just what Hay dialed up.
"We got off to a great start," Hay said. "We knew the U.S. played [Friday] and we wanted to get off to a really good start with the fans behind us and we were able to do that. Team USA showed their character and really battled back so that game will make us a better team. It was two solid countries playing against each other and two very competitive groups on the ice. It was a fun game to watch."
Wedgewood stopped 12 shots in the middle period to extend his personal shutout streak in the tournament to five periods, but that ended when Coyle beat him from the left circle with 10:11 left in the third on the Americans' 27th shot of the game. Zucker's goal with 6:48 left only served to make the final outcome close. Wedgewood was making his first start since posting a 26-save, 5-0 shutout against the Czech Republic on Wednesday.
"After the first, we knew we had to keep battling, which we did," Coyle said. "We couldn't bury a shot in the second, but the third we had our chances again and buried a few. We came up a little short but it was a great game. Canada is a tough team and losing to them is tough to swallow, but they battled and we battled."
Battle indeed. Coyle played in the game despite missing most of Friday's contest with an illness. Canada defenseman Nathan Beaulieu took a puck in the face and was seen after the game with a lump the size of a baseball bulging from his right cheek. Additionally, Canadian defenseman Scott Harrington suffered an upper-body injury and was sidelined the last two periods. Hay did say Harrington should be fine to begin medal-round play.
This certainly wasn't the ending the U.S. expected -- the Americans lost to Finland on Wednesday, the Czech Republic on Friday and then Canada by a combined 12-5 aggregate after opening the tournament by beating Denmark 11-3 on Monday.
"We had speed, but you never know about the finishers until you get into actual game situations," coach Dean Blais said. "We thought we had a little bit of everything, including size on defense, Jack Campbell and John Gibson in goal. You just have to put your lines together and offset what the other team has, and we thought we did that.
"You never know about the talent for that particular year as far as finishers go. We had a lot of great finishers and still only managed two goals a night."
The U.S., which was eliminated from medal contention on Friday, will play Latvia at 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday and Switzerland at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday in the relegation round at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. Both games will be streamed on NHL.com.
Stone began Canada's first-period barrage with his team-leading seventh goal of the tournament off a quick release from the slot after gathering a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau at 5:39. Schwartz, Canada's captain, extended the lead to 2-0 with his first of the tournament at 10:12 when he took a feed from Stone in the slot and buried a short shot past Campbell.
"It's nice to get that first one of the tournament," Schwartz said. "I'm happy we won, but nice to chip in and get a goal."
Connolly scored an unassisted goal at 15:59. After skating into the right circle on a 2-on-1, he ripped a shot that beat Campbell to the long side for a 3-0 cushion.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
For six months, it's a really good accomplishment. But as soon as April [11, the end of the regular season] comes around, no one thinks about the regular season anymore. For six months, it's a real battle to get into the playoffs in the NHL these days. There are a lot of good teams, and it takes consistency over a long time.
— Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau on clinching a playoff berth after a win against the Islanders on Saturday