Led by Steve Moses and Dan Sexton, Team USA won its opening game of the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship against Finland.
Team USA scored two even strength goals in the second period to break a tie and beat Finland 5-1 at CEZ Arena in the opening game of the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Ostrava.
Kontinental Hockey League players Steve Moses and Dan Sexton paced the attack as the United States won its fifth straight World Championship opening round game since 2011. The pair combined for four points.
Finland controlled the play from the outset, trying to establish their game and get to Connor Hellebuyck who started for Team USA. It marked his first start and game in a World Championship but the AHL All-Star was up to the challenge.
"Connor made a lot of key saves for us to keep the game where it was and we later we capitalized on our chances," said Matt Hendricks.
Finland peppered Hellebuyck’s net with shots in the first period and he seemed stronger and gained more confidence as the game progressed.
"It was a really fun game and I thought the whole team played well." Said Hellebuyck who made 29 saves. "[Finland] had a lot of good power plays, they really move the puck well so I had to be ready for that. They're a good team."
Finland certainly had their chances in the period. Defenceman Sami Lepisto took a neat pass in for a shot on goal in what was impressive rush. Finland would also create solid chances on the two power plays they were able to draw but the Americans remained diligent in their assignments and getting the puck out of their zone and danger.
Steve Moses scored the first goal of the contest and in his first opportunity representing Team USA. Moses took a pass from Brock Nelson and went high with a backhand on starter Pekka Rinne. The shot hit the crossbar and went in. The goal came with 23.9 remaining in the first.
Moses knows something about scoring goals as he potted 36 goals for Jokerit in the Kontinental Hockey League. That stands as a Jokerit single-season record.
Team USA welcomed Nelson and Anders Lee, just off a game-seven loss to the Washington Capitals. Despite the obvious disappointment and fatigue that comes with an NHL regular season and playoffs, both made the trip.
"We were teasing them about how they were going to feel," Hendricks said of the pair who just arrived to the Czech Republic. "But they are great pros and they showed up knowing it wasn't going to be the best situation for them but they battled and played a heck of a game."
Finland tied the game up at 5:40 of the second. A point shot by Jyrki Jokipakka flipped past Hellebuyck as Jonas Kemppainen stood in front as a screen.
Rather than get down, the youthful Americans came back strong, regaining the lead when Dan Sexton forced a turnover at the Finnish point then chasing down the puck to get a shot on goal. Rinne’s pad save left a big rebound for USA captain Matt Hendricks to tap in.
Team USA widened their lead to two goals in the second period when Dan Sexton got on the scoreboard. Sexton, who skates for Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, worked hard on that play. Hendricks and Krug earned assists.
"We've only been together for five days and finally we had a real game against a really good team," said Sexton. "We expected a close game and for us to be able to score on the few opportunities we had right away was a confidence builder for us but we're going to need to try to play a little better defense in the next games."
A fourth goal was added for good measure when Steve Moses shot squirreled through Rinne’s pads and Nick Bonino was there to take advantage of the loose puck. Nelson also earned his second point on the day.
With a little over three minutes left in the third period, Finland pulled Rinne in an attempt to get something going. The Americans weathered the storm and Hendricks scored an empty net goal, his second of the game.
A rough start for Finland, to be sure, but then again they did the same last year, dropping their first two games only to find a way to the finals. But there is little doubt that they need to play with urgency heading into their next game.
For Team USA it was a well earned win. Hendricks put it best:
"We want to be the hardest working team in the tournament. You ask any team and they will probably say the same. That's our goal and our motto. We have skill and speed that will contribute to those efforts."