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Team U.S.A. Eliminated in Thrilling Game

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
In what was surely the most exciting game of the World Championships thus far, Team U.S.A. was eliminated in the quarterfinals by the slimmest of margins.

With the score tied 4-4 between the U.S. and Finland after regulation and a 10 minute overtime, it took 10 attempts in the following shootout to score just one goal, which proved to be the game-winner courtesy of Finland and Dallas Stars veteran Jere Lehtinen.

Prior to Lehtinen's goal in the sudden-death portion of the shootout, Hurricanes goaltender John Grahame had made four saves, including a phenomenal stop on the Florida Panther's Ville Peltonen in which Grahame was clearly beaten but batted the shot out of mid-air with his stick as it was going in.

Grahame ended up making 29 saves overall, while Southeast Divison rival Kari Lehtonen of the Atlanta Thrashers made 28, not counting the five he made in the shootout.

The result means that Team U.S.A.'s involvement in the tournament is over, while Finland will advance to play undefeated host nation Russia in the semifinals.

The Americans were extremely close to being eliminated even before the extra session could begin.  With the U.S. down by a goal with the seconds ticking away in the third period, Hurricanes defenseman Andrew Hutchinson stepped up and scored a timely power play goal after Erik Cole had drawn a hooking penalty.  Hutchinson blasted a one-timer from Phil Kessel into the small glimmer of daylight that was sitting over Kari Lehtonen's shoulder to tie the game at 4-4.

Hutchinson finished the tournament with three goals and four points in seven games.

Chad LaRose was extremely active all night, as he picked up yet another shorthanded point in the first minute of the second period.  With the U.S. down 1-0 and down a man on the ice, LaRose took a pass off the boards from Matt Greene and raced up the ice on a two-on-one, where he dished a perfect pass that Tobias Peterson converted into the tying goal.

Besides the dramatic shootout ending, the game will also be remembered for the wild back-and-forth second period where each team scored three times.  After Peterson's goal made it 1-1, Finland would take the lead only for the U.S. to tie the game each time until the buzzer sounded and the Finns led 4-3.

During that second period, Finland's Jari Viuhkola, a 1998 draft choice of the Blackhawks who never made it over to the NHL, capitalized on a puckhandling mistake by Grahame for Finland's third goal.  A Finland player intercepted Grahame's clearing attempt, and although he did get back in his net in time to make the initial save, the U.S. never recovered from the confusion and Viukola scored moments later.

After all the drama of the second period and Hutchinson's late equalizer, the shootout did not disappoint.  The format was similar to the NHL's in that each team shot three times before the sudden death portion begin, although there was one key difference.

In the NHL, once a player shoots, he cannot shoot again until all players have gone at least once.  That is not the case in international play, as Kessel and the New Jersey Devils' Zach Parise each missed twice for the Americans.

With the U.S. eliminated, the Team Canada quartet of Mike Commodore, Eric Staal, Cam Ward and Justin Williams are the only Hurricanes players left in the tournament.  Earlier on Thursday, Canada beat Switzerland 5-1 to earn a date with Sweden in Saturday's semifinals.
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