Forwards Ryan Hartman and Jack Eichel and defenseman Matthew Grzelcyk each had a goal and an assist and goalie Jon Gillies made 27 saves to lead the United States National Junior Team to a 6-3 victory over Slovakia in the preliminary round action of the Group A pool in the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship at Malmo Isstadion in Sweden.
Holding a precarious 3-2 lead after two periods, the Americans broke the game open by outscoring the Slovaks 3-1 in the third. The United States outshot Slovakia, 47-30, including a 16-8 margin in the third.
The U.S. will next face Germany on Sunday at 9 a.m. ET.
The United States scored three power-play goals on five opportunities, but also struggled staying out the penalty box and allowed the Slovaks back into the game as a result. Fresh off a 9-2 victory against Germany on Friday, Slovakia received power-play goals by Milan Kolena at 11:04 and Martin Reway at 12:57 to pull within 3-2. Reway, who has three goals and six points in two tournament games, was named Slovakia's player of the game.
The U.S. took a 6-2 advantage in the third with three goals. Grzelcyk (Boston University; Boston Bruins) took a bank pass off the end boards from Connor Carrick and deposited his first of the tournament at 9:33 for a 4-2 lead. Grzelcyk was named player of the game for the United States.
Stefan Matteau (Albany Devils; New Jersey Devils) extended the lead when he took a pass in the slot from Andrew Copp (University of Michigan; Winnipeg Jets) and ripped a shot into the top right corner at 14:15.
U.S. captain Riley Barber (Miami University; Washington Capitals) finished a 2-on-1 breakout with Copp at 16:34 to give his team a 6-2 lead before Slovakia's Reway scored his second of the game at 17:52 to close out the scoring.
If not for Gillies, the Slovaks might have entered the third tied or holding a lead. He denied Mario Lunter with a spectacular left pad save off a rebound at 3:20 of the second and then turned away David Griger's blast from the left circle at 9:10.
Gillies (Providence College; Calgary Flames) would then make another huge stop three minutes into the third with his team on the power play. Matteau's blind pass in the Slovak zone was picked off and Marko Dano broke in one-on-one against the American goalie, who flared the mitt to deflect the attempt over the glass.
Slovakia finished 2-for-6 with the man advantage, including 2-for-4 in the second when it outshot the Americans, 11-9.
The U.S. had taken a 3-0 lead 4:22 into the second when Ryan Hartman (Plymouth Whalers; Chicago Blackhawks) uncorked a shot from the left circle that beat Richard Sabol high to the short side on the power-play. Will Butcher (University of Denver; Colorado Avalanche) set up the play with a tape-to-tape pass to Hartman from the point. Sabol finished with 41 saves.
After killing two Slovakia power-play attempts early in the first, the United States knocked in a pair of goals with the man advantage in the final four minutes to open a 2-0 edge. The Americans outshot the Slovaks 22-11 in the opening 20 minutes.
Eichel made a nice move to the net down the slot and received a great pass from Hartman before sweeping home his first of the tournament at 16:53. The goal came just 29 seconds after Slovak defenseman Lubomir Dinda was sent to the box for boarding Barber.
Sabol was then whistled for delay of the game at 19:17 and the Americans went right to work. Grzelcyk took a pass from Nicolas Kerdiles (University of Wisconsin; Anaheim Ducks) and took a shot that bounced to Daniel O'Regan (Boston University; San Jose Sharks) in the slot. O'Regan jammed home his first of the tournament with just one second remaining to give his team a 2-0 lead.
"I thought we really picked up the pace later in the period; maybe we were too cute earlier on in the game," O'Regan told NHL Network during the first intermission. "But we began moving our feet defensively and getting pucks to the net. It was nice to score that goal late; we had one last rush and Nic beat a guy wide. The puck bounced to me after Grzelcyk took that first shot."
While Gillies wasn't called upon to be great, he did make several big saves in the opening period to keep the game scoreless when the Slovaks had some sustained pressure.