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#CBJ at the Worlds: May 4

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets


Monday’s game between the U.S. and Russia was a big test for the Americans, whom many considered to be undermanned in comparison to the opponent.

Through two games of preliminary round play at the 2015 IIHF World Hockey Championship, only one team had been better than the United States in Group B, and that just so happened to be Russia. For head coach Todd Richards and his staff, the game represented both a measuring stick internally but also an opportunity to formulate a game plan, execute it and take control of the group.

Mission accomplished on both fronts, you could say.

Team USA never trailed on Monday afternoon at CZE Arena in Ostrava, getting an early goal from LA Kings forward Trevor Lewis and an empty-netter from the Islanders’ Brock Nelson with nine seconds left in regulation, sealing a 4-2 regulation victory that catapulted the Americans into first place (3-0-0) in the group.

It was a fast and intense game and one that Team USA had to manage in order to get the desired result – and Richards felt his team did that.

“I think we matched their speed,” Richards said. “You have to, in a game like this. If you’re a step behind or a step out of place, they’ll eat you up. We were able to check…we were using our legs to check them tonight. They still had their moments. They’re a talented team and you’re not, for 60 minutes, going to keep a team like that down.”

A goal from Mark Arcobello gave the Americans a 3-1 lead with eight minutes left in regulation, but Russia had an answer to make it interesting down the stretch.

[HUB] Follow the Blue Jackets at the 2015 IIHF World Hockey Championship

Sergei Plotnikov scored from a bad angle – banking a centering pass off the stick of Team USA defenseman Seth Jones and into the net – with 3:41 to play, setting up for an entertaining close to one of the tournament’s more entertaining games so far.

Of particular note was a strong team-defense performance from Team USA, including some timely shot blocking, back pressure and a commitment to defend as a unit of five. Their penalty killing was a big help against a skilled Russian team, and through three tournament games, the U.S. has not allowed a power play goal against.

“We were focused and there was a commitment to doing the right things,” Richards said. “The video was pretty evident of what to expect from these guys. You watch it and you’re like ‘oh my god, oh my god.’ They play fast, they have lots of skill and can score goals, so I think there was a little bit of fear in the guys, and sometimes fear is a good thing as far as focus and just being ready to play.

“There were some scrambles, and you could see the desperation – that’s what you want to see in a tournament like this. It’s a credit to the players and it says a lot about their character, and it says a lot about our identity. I think you’re starting to see it early in this tournament, what type of team we need to be.”

Over in Group A action at O2 Arena in Prague, there was a big tilt scheduled for the night cap on Monday, with the locals hoping for a monumental upset.

It didn't pan out that way, but the building was still rocking for the majority of Canada's win over the host Czechs and the home crowd certainly did its part to create an electric atmosphere.

Edmonton Oilers forwards Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall each had multi-point efforts (goal, assist apiece) and Sidney Crosby scored once again, pacing a Canadian attack that's shown no signs of letting up through three games of the tournament.

Canada has a one-point edge on Sweden for first place in Group A, and its 3-0-0 record is identical to that of Team USA on the other side. It's early, no doubt about it, but one group leader (Canada) has met expectations while the other (United States) has perhaps exceeded outside expectations entering the World Championship.

Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard played 14:35 in Canada's third consecutive win.

OTHER NOTE: Blue Jackets prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand's WHL season wrapped up in a six-game series loss to the Kelowna Rockets on Sunday night, and now, he's on his way to the Czech Republic to join Team Denmark for the balance of the tournament. Bjorkstrand scored 144 goals in 193 regular season games with the Portland Winterhawks, and it's expected that pro hockey is next on the docket for the talented 20-year-old.

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