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Canada maintains 2-0 lead over U.S. after two periods

by Mike G. Morreale

The Canadian National Junior Team, bolstered by big performances from its top players, continues to hold a 2-0 lead against the United States after two periods Sunday in Group B play of the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ryan Strome connected for first-period goals and goalie Malcolm Subban has made 25 saves, including 15 in the second.

Canada was forced to kill a double-minor penalty to defenseman Griffin Reinhart for high sticking at 6:52 of the second. Ryan Hartman was fouled by Reinhart after the American forward established position down low in the Canadian end.

Canada's penalty killers did a fantastic job of keeping the U.S. players to the perimeter for much of four-minute advantage. When the puck did find a seam, Subban, who was credited with eight saves during the power-play, was there to shut the door.

Nugent-Hopkins opened the scoring for Canada with his third goal of the tournament off a quick release from the inner right circle 7:13 into the period. Following an offensive-zone draw, Jonathan Huberdeau controlled the puck along the half-boards before feeding an uncovered Nugent-Hopkins, who ripped a shot that beat Gibson low to the blocker side.

Canada extended the lead to 2-0 when Strome followed up a rebound of a Brett Ritchie wrap-around attempt at 18:19. Strome beat U.S. defenseman Seth Jones to the puck in front of Gibson following Ritchie's big surge behind the American net.

Despite allowing two goals in the opening period, Gibson did make three huge stops to keep the game within reach for the United States. He stopped Kitchener Rangers teammate Ryan Murphy off a semi-breakaway attempt, denied 2013 draft-eligible prospect Jonathan Drouin on a breakaway, and turned away Mark Scheifele with a sensational left-glove snare in front.

Subban also make a few scintillating stops, including one off a breakaway attempt by U.S. forward John Gaudreau with 9:15 remaining.

In the absence of forward J.C. Lipon, who was suspended for the game, Canada coach Steve Spott opted to have Nathan MacKinnon on right wing with Strome and Jonathan Drouin on the second line. Brett Ritchie was inserted on the fourth line with Anthony Camara and a rotating center. Ty Rattie was placed on right wing with Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault.

A victory by Canada would set up a first-place showdown in Group B against Russia on Monday. Canada would have three victories and nine points, and Russia would enter the game with two regulation victories and one overtime victory for eight points.

If the United States could mount a comeback and defeat Canada on Sunday, all three teams would be in the hunt for Group B supremacy on New Year's Eve.

The United States has posted a 5-1-3-26-3 (W-OTW-OTL-L-T) record against Canada in 38 meetings in the WJC. Canada has won eight of the last nine meetings, including a 3-2 preliminary-round matchup at the 2012 WJC. The U.S. last celebrated a victory over Canada on Jan. 5, 2010 -- a 6-5 overtime decision in the gold-medal contest.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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