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Hellebuyck leads US to semifinal berth

by Staff / Winnipeg Jets

Author: Andy Potts

Team USA secured a 3-1 verdict over a hard-working Swiss team to move into the last four of the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

Two goals in a minute midway through the second period settled the issue as the Americans recovered from a fine solo creation by Switzerland’s Roman Josi to record a comeback victory in Ostrava.

Ben Smith and Charlie Coyle got on the scoresheet in the middle frame, both of them hitting the net for the second game in a row after posting markers against Slovakia in the last group stage match-up. That turned this knock-out showdown decisively in the Americans’ favour and a further goal in the third period saw Jake Gardiner round out a solid victory.

Initially, though, the signs were looking good for Switzerland. Team USA has struggled in knock-out games in recent years, losing 12 of 18 quarter-finals at the World Championship. Its last win at this stage was a memorable 8-3 thrashing of Russia in Helsinki in 2013, steering the Stars and Stripes to the medal games for the first time since 2009.

Moreover, much of its success in this competition has come from getting a strong start in games – one of the recurring themes of the post-game conversation following the nerve-jangling overtime win over Slovakia was how to right what was going wrong in second periods in this competition. So when the Swiss rode out some U.S. pressure and snatched a first period lead, there were good grounds for confidence among the fans from the Alpine nation.

That opening goal was a bit special as well. Defenceman Josi went coast-to-coast, slicing through the U.S. defence at will before going upstairs to win his duel with Connor Hellebuyck.

In response Todd Richards’ young roster stepped up its game but struggled to really lay a glove on a well-drilled Swiss defence marshalled by captain Mark Streit in his 200th international appearance. It wasn’t until the midway mark that hard work got its reward – but suddenly it exploded in spectacular fashion.

At 10:17 of the middle frame Team USA tied it up through Ben Smith. Mark Arcobello primed the attack, Jimy Vesey swung round behind the net and delivered an inviting puck out in front for Smith to fire home. A minute later it was 2-1. Seth Jones thumped in a slap shot from the point and Charlie Coyle fought his way into position to get ahead of Patrick Geering and deflect the puck past Berra.

Now the game was opening up and the Americans were getting some better looks at the net. Vesey and Coyle both came close to adding a third but the Swiss also fired a warning shot as Denis Hollenstein dashed away from Torey Krug only to shoot wide of Hellebuyck’s net.

Defenceman Jake Gardiner, recalled to the roster after sitting out the Slovakia game, gave his team a two-goal cushion midway through the third when he took a Coyle pass on the blue line and picked his spot to beat Berra’s blocker.

Switzerland withdrew Berra with 2:35 left on the clock but struggled to get a clear view of Hellebuyck's goal in the closing seconds and the Swiss were limited to just five shots in the final session as Team USA closed out the game calmly to set up a clash with the winner of this evening’s Russia-Sweden match-up.

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