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USA and Canada win World Champ openers @NHLdotcom
Team USA had the perfect tune-up for Saturday's rivalry showdown with Canada at the 2012 IIHF World Championship in Helsinki.

The Americans opened tournament play Friday afternoon with a convincing 7-2 win against France at Hartwall Arena.

New York Islanders forward Kyle Okposo had a pair of goals -- including a memorable bad-angle snipe -- and Montreal's Max Pacioretty, the man of the match, had a goal and three points. Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard made 21 saves for the Americans.

Former NHL goalie Cristobal Huet, who won the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010, played for France and stopped 28 of 35 shots.


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Anaheim Ducks forward Bobby Ryan, who had a goal, said the game was closer than the final score line indicated.

"The score didn't really indicate the game," Ryan told "I think they could have had a lot more goals and we could have come up with a few less. It was closer than people might realize."

Actually, France opened the scoring when Nicolas Besch beat Howard with a wrist shot from the slot at 12:17 of the first period, but Okposo answered with a breakaway goal a little less than five minutes later.

"It was a little bit of nerves out there," Howard said. "It's been a little while since I played for Team USA, so I was a little bit nervous in the first and second but I felt a lot better in the third.

The Americans pulled away in the final two periods, using a pair of power-play goals to take a 3-1 lead and then adding four even-strength goals in the game's final 27 minutes to turn a 3-2 lead into a rout.

Now, the Americans have to get ready for Team Canada on Saturday.

"It's better for us to take it one step at a time," Ryan told "We got a feel for the big ice in Sweden, and a lot of guys felt uncomfortable with it and the extra width, so it was important that we get a game under our belt in a different situation like this."

Canada 3, Slovakia 2

Second-period goals by Jordan Eberle and Andrew Ladd just 2:51 apart put Canada in the driver's seat, and the Canadians held on to defeat upstart Slovakia in their World Championship opener.

Jamie Benn opened the scoring for Canada, which held a 19-10 advantage in shots through two periods but needed Cam Ward to hold off a furious surge over the final 20 minutes.

The win did come at a cost, however. After logging just six minutes of ice time, Alexandre Burrows left in the second period with an injury and did not return.

Playing without Michal Handzus of the San Jose Sharks, who is expected to join the team for their next game against host Finland, Slovakia entered as a heavy underdog to a Canadian team full of NHL talent.

Canada controlled the pace at the start of the game, with Benn opening the scoring in the first period off a great pass from captain Ryan Getzlaf. Tomas Tatar evened things up for Slovakia just 1:58 into the second, but it appeared the quick goals by Eberle and Ladd might open things up in favor of the Canadians.

After being stifled by Canada's defense through the first two periods, the Slovaks came out harder in the final period, peppering Ward with shots. Milan Bartovic halved Canada's lead 2:59 into the period. Slovakia fired 11 shots at Ward in the third and received a power-play opportunity with 8:55 left when Corey Perry was called for a tripping penalty. But Ward held the fort during Canada's only penalty kill of the game, making a couple of big stops off hard slap shots from Slovakian star Zdeno Chara. Slovakia pulled goaltender Peter Hamerlik in the final minute, but Ward again stood tall.

The game also saw the emergence of 18-year-old Ryan Murray. The top defense prospect at the upcoming 2012 NHL Draft, Murray was pushed into duty by an injury to P.K. Subban. Though his giveaway led to Tatar's second-period goal, Murray finished the game with an even rating and logged 17:09 of ice time on 20 shifts.

On Saturday, Canada will face the United States while Slovakia meets the Finns on Sunday.

Czech Republic 2, Denmark 0

Montreal Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec assisted on both Czech goals, including Ales Hemsky's game-winner with five seconds remaining in the second period, to lead the Czech Republic to victory in its opening game.

Hemsky's goal came only seconds after Danish defenseman Philip Larsen of the Dallas Stars exited the penalty box after serving a hooking penalty. Up to that point, the game had been a tight-checking, closely-called defensive affair, with the two teams combining for 34 shots and seven penalties in the first two periods.

As he did in the second, Plekanec contributed to another Czech goal late in the third, this time setting up Petr Tenkrat's clinching tally with 2:39 remaining.

Czech goaltender Jakub Kovar stopped all 26 shots he faced for the shutout and 40-year-old Petr Nedved made his debut with the Czech national team after previously suiting up for Canada at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Nedved centered a line with Petr Prucha and Michal Vondrka.

Germany 3, Italy 0

Known primarily in his native Germany for his time playing with the national team and in the DEL, Christoph Ullmann is suddenly a more prominent figure at the Worlds following an impressive performance against Italy.

The 28-year-old forward assisted on all three of Germany's goals, with Philip Gogulla -- another DEL veteran who spent the 2009-10 season with the Portland Pirates of the AHL -- chipping in two assists.

Dennis Endras made 22 saves for the shutout in a game the Germans controlled throughout, outshooting the Italians 46-22.

Finland 1, Belarus 0

The defending world champions used a goal from Janne Niskala and 21 saves from Kari Lehtonen to edge Belarus in their first game.

Niskala's goal, with assists credited to Finnish captain Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund, was scored with just 42 seconds remaining in the first, a period in which Finland outshot Belarus 13-2 and the brilliance of Vitali Koval was necessary to keep the Belarusians in the game.

The shot difference was more balanced in the second and third periods, but the Finns still outshot their opponent 38-21 in their quest to become the first host nation to win the World Championship since Czechoslovakia did it in 1985.

Sweden 3, Norway 1

Captain Daniel Alfredsson contributed two assists as co-host Sweden overcame a momentary scare to top Norway in its first game in Stockholm's Ericsson Globe.

Jakob Silfverberg scored the lone goal in a first period marred by rough play that came to a head when Norwegian defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen checked Sweden's Henrik Zetterberg. The hit knocked Sweden's alternate captain into Norway's goaltender, Lars Haugen, sending his mask flying. When the play was done, Alfredsson, Zetterberg, and Tollefsen all received two-minute minors and referees Vladimir Baluska and Brent Reiber whistled 12 total penalties in the first period.

Mads Hansen tied the game for Norway just 20 seconds into the second period, a potentially frightening development considering the Swedes opened the 2011 tournament with a 5-4 upset loss to Norway. But Marcus Kruger put any fears to rest with his game-winning goal just 2:09 later. Loui Eriksson put the game away in the third period and only Norwegian goaltender Lars Haugen, who made 41 saves in the game, kept things from getting out of hand.

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