The United States used an early offensive explosion and outstanding play from goalie John Gibson to defeat Canada 5-1 in the semifinals at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Jake McCabe had two goals and an assist and John Gaudreau had a pair of goals as the Americans advanced to Saturday's gold-medal game (8 a.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN). They'll face defending champion Sweden, which beat Russia 3-2 in a shootout in the other semifinal.
The United States has won the gold medal just twice in WJC history, in 2004 and 2010.
"The guys played very, very hard," American coach Phil Housley told NHL.com. "I'm really proud of them. We got the start we needed. I thought we set the pace there early, getting pucks deep and we got that all-important first goal. The second period we capitalized on some early opportunities and Johnny Gibson made some big momentum saves for us. We really got settled in at that point."
Gibson finished with 36 saves, but none were bigger than two he made on a penalty kill midway through the third period. Early in the advantage Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who entered the game as the tournament's leading scorer, got the puck alone in the slot, but Gibson managed to get a piece of his shot with his glove, deflecting it over the crossbar. Seconds later, Gibson had to dive out to get his pad on a shot by Dougie Hamilton, who was open in the slot just to the right of the American net.
"We just tried to play our game and be calm and I tried to keep the puck out of the net any way I could," Gibson told NHL.com. "It [Nugent-Hopkins' shot] hit my arm and it was a good thing it stayed out."
In six games, Gibson has allowed just eight goals for a .955 save percentage. In two games in the tournament against Canada, he's allowed two goals on 69 shots.
"He's given us a chance to win every game," Housley said. "He's been outstanding."
"That might have been the best I've seen him play," teammate J.T. Miller, who has played with and against Miller since their days in minor hockey in the Pittsburgh area, told NHL.com. "He gets better and better every game, and he came out today with the best he had."
Ty Rattie scored Canada's lone goal, and goalie Malcolm Subban, who had allowed just eight goals in four games, was removed in the second period after allowing four goals on 16 shots. Jordan Binnington, who replaced him, stopped 25 of 26 shots.
Canada will play Saturday in the bronze-medal game (4 a.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN) for the second straight year, against the losing team from the second semifinal.
"At the end of the day we deserve something," Ryan Strome, one of six returning Canadian players who won the bronze last year, told TSN. "This team has come a long way. We really bonded together. We deserve more than we got today. We have to go home with something. It's tough to get up for that bronze game, but I think it means a lot at the end of the day. You're going to remember getting that bronze."
What Canada would like to forget is the start of Thursday's game. Despite playing its sixth game in eight days and its third set of back-to-back games, the United States was the faster, more aggressive team and it showed on the scoreboard as the Americans took a 2-0 lead after one period on a pair of goals by McCabe.
McCabe, the American captain who made the team based more on his defensive ability -- he has just two goals in 16 games this season at the University of Wisconsin -- pinched into the high slot to score the game's first goal. Riley Barber got open in front of the Canadian net and had a pair of chances, but Subban stopped both attempts. The puck rolled to Barber for a third chance, but he spotted McCabe alone out high. McCabe's shot through heavy traffic found its way over Subban's glove at 7:18 for his second goal in six games of the WJC.
Later in the first, Rocco Grimaldi rushed the puck into the Canada end and dropped a pass for McCabe, who ripped a shot past Subban's glove with 3:58 left in the first to make it 2-0.
"It was really big for us," Miller said of the start. "One of our main keys was to hop in on them and get the lead early so they could chase us. Getting two, and two more in the second, was unbelievable."
For Canada, which had a day off after winning Group B, it was a stunning start.
"Our penalty killing was great throughout the tournament and John [Gibson] is a big reason for that. Certainly we knew they were going to come out hard [in the third], and once we got the fifth goal, that was a big difference for us. We stole the momentum from that point on in the period." -- U.S. coach Phil Housley
"I think [Wednesday] we had a good day of practice, a good day of preparation," Canada coach Steve Spott told TSN, "but ultimately the legs simply weren't there in the first period and that cost us."
The Americans continued to push the play in the second, with Gaudreau carrying the puck into the Canada end, making a nice move to drag the puck around Canadian defenseman Ryan Murphy and beating Subban just 2:58 into the period.
Vesey made it 4-0 when he took a pass from Gaudreau, stepped around Canada's Xavier Ouellet and beat Subban to the far side, over his blocker, at 12:24.
That ended Subban's game, but his removal had more to do with how the team played in front of him.
"He battled hard for us all tournament," Nugent-Hopkins told TSN. "We left him out to dry a few times tonight. He definitely deserved better from us."
The third period saw Canada finally generate offensive pressure as Spott changed a few of his lines, but all they could manage was Rattie's odd shorthanded goal at 4:03 of the period.
Canada was skating a man down due to a penalty for too many men on the ice, but was pressuring in the American end when Philip Danault's shot hit the side of the United States net and kicked into the slot. Rattie fired a shot that hit the post, but then it appeared one of the referees blew his whistle and the Americans thought the play had been blown dead. However, the puck bounced back to Rattie, who scored. The goal was upheld after a video replay.
Canada had another chance to climb back into the game with the mid-period power play, but Gibson and the American penalty killing -- which has shut down 23 of 25 opposing power plays in the tournament -- kept them off the board.
"He made some great saves," Strome said. "You want to pepper a goalie as much as you can. Maybe we could have done more, but at the end of the day he made great saves."
Canada continued to press after the power play ended, but Gibson made every important save, and then Gaudreau's goal off a long pass from Miller closed the scoring. The goal was Gaudreau's seventh of the tournament, all in the last three games, and puts him one goal shy of Jeremy Roenick's American record of eight in one tournament.
"Our penalty killing was great throughout the tournament and John is a big reason for that," Housley said. "Certainly we knew they were going to come out hard [in the third], and once we got the fifth goal, that was a big difference for us. We stole the momentum from that point on in the period."
The Americans will get one more important day of rest, and then it's on to the gold-medal game for the fourth time.
"[Thursday] is a night to enjoy what we accomplished and then [Friday] it's like it never happened," Miller said. "We're really looking forward to our competition."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK