By Glenn Odebralski for floridapanthers.com
With all due respect to the first semifinal of the night and the teams playing in them (Russia and Sweden), this was the one everyone wanted to see: Canada and the United States.
While the encounter took place one game too soon, it didn't matter to the players, the crowd or the media.
From the get go, it was all Canada as they jumped all over the United States. They controlled play with hits, speed and energy thus punching their ticket to the gold medal game with a 4-1 victory. Mark Visentin stopped 22 shots in the win while Jack Campbell turned aside 37 shots on the other side. Both were named Players Of The Game for their countries for their efforts.
"We laid into them right off the get go. We knew that we had to jump on them quick," said Panthers prospect Erik Gudbranson
. "They were coming in here with a lot of confidence and we had to be hard on them. It was a great game for all of us."
"I think we just didn't come out and compete as hard as they did," said forward Drew Shore
. "That was the difference in the game."
The Panthers had one of the largest contingents in the game with four prospects playing, two for each side. Nick Bjugstad
and Shore suited up for the United States while Quinton Howden
and Gudbranson wore the red and white of the Canada jersey. That made it all the more better that the game-winning goal would come off one of their sticks.
Canada would score early in the game, just 2:28 to be exact. Curtis Hamilton pounced on a rebound, potting his fourth of the tournament, off an original shot by Cody Eakin.
Then it was Howden who would double the lead for the Canadians. Rushing up the ice, Howden would work his way to the center and neatly redirected Brett Connolly's centering pass past Campbell with 6:06 left in the first period. Gudbranson picked up the second assist on the goal.
"We definitely wanted it a lot more. That's something we wanted to come out with, a bang right from the beginning and show that we did want it more," said Howden. "That's how we came out with the win."
Up 2-0, the crowd was thoroughly behind Canada at that point and the squad kept them happy all night long.
"It was huge. The support that we had behind us definitely means a lot from being able to have all our fans here supporting us," said Howden. "Definitely was behind us in the win."
"Canada it's huge. Hockey is huge there. You could tell by the fans that they really wanted it," said Bjugstad. I think they just wanted it more tonight."
Maybe the United States best chance in the first came with 30 seconds to play as Bjugstad, stationed behind the net sent a pass to Ryan Bourque up front. Bourque couldn't connect on the attempt.
"The first period we didn't get many shots on him," said Bjugstad. "Throughout the game we were starting to get better shots but I think he gained a little confidence."
The United States didn't do themselves any favors early in the second period. Taking back-to-back penalties, they gave Canada a 5-on-3 for 1:35. The Canadians made them pay as Ryan Johansen knocked home the rebound while stationed in front of the net, making it 3-0 with 5:59 gone in the in the frame.
Sean Couturier had a great chance to further Canada's lead with 9:20 left in the second as he broke in all alone on Campbell off a turnover but Campbell was able to record the save.
Visentin had to come up with a big save of his own with 2:54 left. With the US on a power play, the defenseman sent a puck flying toward the net. Visentin has to come up big with the redirect attempt by his own defenseman Simon Despres.
"I think the night before really prepared us for what was to come today," said Gudbranson. "We knew that it was a big game coming in but it was certainly a lot of help being able to play, work on some little things we were missing."
Zack Kassian would give Canada a 4-0 lead eight seconds after a US power play as he rushed up the left side of the ice and beat Campbell top shelf.
Visentin came up with a big glove save with 12:34 to play in third.
"Visentin stood on his head," said Howden. "Our d were very strong getting up to us forwards quick so we got out of the zone and we were making the chances out of what we could. Everybody had a great game tonight and it will lead on to Wednesday."
The United States would finally find the back of the net and ruin Visentin's shutout with 10:23 left to play as Chris Brown scored on the power play.
Canada will battle it out for gold with Russia for gold (7:30pm EST, NHL Network/TSN) while the United States will have to pick themselves up as they go for bronze against Sweden (3:30pm EST, NHL Network/TSN).
"It's huge. Obviously Canada/Russia have a huge rivalry," said Howden. "Almost as big as the US and Canada so it's going to be built up and we're looking forward to it."
"Tonight, tomorrow it'll probably be a little tough," said Shore about transitioning from this game to playing against Sweden. "It's a new day and a chance to win a bronze medal."
"We know that we have another game to play and it's going to be a lot bigger than it was today," said Gudbranson. "Going for a gold medal is pretty self explanatory. We have a lot of work to do and we're going to be sure to be prepared for it."