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World Juniors

United States loses to Sweden in World Juniors semifinals

Defending champion allows three goals in third period

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

BUFFALO -- The United States allowed two shorthanded goals in a span of 38 seconds in the third period in a 4-2 loss against Sweden in the semifinals of the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship at KeyBank Center on Thursday.

The loss ended the United States' hopes of winning back-to-back gold medals in the tournament for the first time. It has a chance to win a medal for the third straight year for the first time when it plays the Czech Republic in the bronze medal game Friday (4 p.m. ET; KeyBank Center, NHLN, TSN, RDS). The Czech Republic lost to Canada 7-2 in the other semifinal.

"This one blindsided us because we felt so strong about how we were going," U.S. coach Bob Motzko said. "We thought we were going to have great legs after having two of the last three days off and at the end of the tournament you get an adrenaline run and a push and ours was the other way. We had a vampire sucking it out of us today and that tells you how tough it is [to repeat as champion]."

 

[Related: Complete World Junior Championship coverage]

 

Elias Pettersson (Vancouver Canucks), Lias Andersson (New York Rangers), Oskar Steen (Boston Bruins) and Axel Jonsson Fjallby (Washington Capitals) scored, and Filip Gustavsson made 29 saves for Sweden, which defeated the United States in the medal round of the tournament for the first time in six tries. Sweden will play Canada for the gold medal Friday (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN, RDS).

Pettersson made it 1-0 on the power play at 13:30 of the second period. Andersson scored off a 2-on-1 in the slot with Fredrik Karlstrom (Dallas Stars) to give Sweden a 2-0 lead 6:17 into the third, before Steen (7:47) and Fjallby (8:25) each scored a shorthanded goal during the same penalty to make it 4-0.

"We couldn't even backcheck [on our power play] and it was early in the period," Motzko said. "We turn a puck over and there was no jump to get back and these are guys who know what to do. That tells you something. Our passing was off and that's what happens when you're fighting."

The two shorthanded goals in 38 seconds were two seconds shy of the WJC record set in 1986 by Sweden.

"We got a little sloppy there," U.S. center Casey Mittelstadt (Buffalo Sabres) said. "I don't really know what happened. They get a break the other way and they score. We've had a good power play the whole tournament and give up a couple of shorties in the third."

The United States, which won seven straight games on the way to the gold medal in the 2017 WJC, lost 3-2 against Slovakia in the preliminary round before winning three straight against Canada (4-3 in a shootout), Finland (5-4), and Russia (4-2 in the quarterfinals).

Video: Reacting to USA's loss to Sweden

"We were so disappointed and on the bench, we're thinking, this is not us," Motzko said. "You want to clap your hands and get it to change. We really felt like we were going to win today and we just had this feeling that it was ours to get back and that's why it was so disappointing because this game was there to be had and we just let it slip."

Kieffer Bellows (New York Islanders, 12:24) and Brady Tkachuk (2018 NHL Draft eligible, 16:59) scored in the third period, and Joseph Woll (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Jake Oettinger (Stars) combined for 16 saves for the United States, which was looking to become the first country to win gold in back-to-back years since Canada won the last of five straight in 2009.

"Obviously, we came here for a gold medal and at the same time we've got a lot of pride in the room so anytime you can try to play for a medal at least you've got to go out and give it your all so we'll be doing that," Mittelstadt said.

Gustavsson's best save came with 48 seconds left in the second on a 3-on-0 breakaway when he used his left pad to deny Mittelstadt on a backhand with the United States on the power play. Not only did the United States not score, but Bellows was penalized for goalie interference.

"To be honest I didn't even really know it was a 3-on-0," Mittelstadt said. "Someone was yelling 'Go' so I just kind of went and I didn't finish there and that's what it comes down to."

Gustavsson said he kept his focus on Mittelstadt the whole play.

"It was more like calling his bluff there that he wasn't going to pass or give it to someone else," he said. 

Motzko said, "We had a 3-on-0 breakaway with our top three scorers in the tournament and you get a penalty out of it. Our kids wanted to do the right things but it just wasn't our night."

Woll was pulled in favor of Oettinger after allowing four goals on 19 shots.

"It doesn't feel very good," Woll said. "Our focus is on tomorrow now and there's still a medal on the line. It's not what we came here looking for, but we'll go out and do our best to get bronze."

Video: Highlights from the Sweden vs. USA matchup

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