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Five Preds Advance to Semifinals; Jones and Smith Named Two of Team USA’s MVPs at the World Championship

by Kevin Wilson / Nashville Predators

Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne made 36 saves to help Finland upset Canada, while Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm scored the game-winning goal with left than seven minutes left in regulation as Sweden topped Belarus, 3-2. The defending-champion Swedes will take on Russia at 6:45 a.m. CT on Saturday in one semifinal at Minsk Arena in Minsk, Belarus, and the Finns will clash with the Czech Republic at 10:45 a.m. on the other side of the bracket. Also on Thursday, Seth Jones and Craig Smith were named two of Team USA’s top three players in the tournament despite being eliminated.

Rinne has been the backbone of Finland’s run at this year’s Worlds, and carries a paltry 1.70 goals-against average, a .933 save percentage and a pair of shutouts in seven starts in the final four. All those number rank among the tournament leaders. He is joined on Team Finland by prospect Miikka Salomaki, who has two points and a +3 rating in eight games, and 2013 draftee Juuse Saros, who has yet to see action as Finland’s third goalie.

Ekholm’s game-winning goal was his second of the tournament, and he now has six points (2g-4a) in eight games, tops among Swedish blueliners. He is joined by Predators forward Calle Jarnkrok, whose +4 rating is tied for the team lead.

The United States’ bid for a second consecutive World Championship medal ended with a 4-3 loss to the Czech Republic on Thursday, however, Jones and Smith were named two of Team USA’s three best players of the tournament.

Jones recorded a pair of assists, a +2 rating and a game-high 27:41 of ice time in Team USA’s final game to finish as the nation’s leading scorer at the tournament with 11 points (2g-9a) in eight games. With only a handful of games remaining before the 2014 edition of the Worlds concludes on Sunday, Nashville’s first choice, fourth overall, in the 2013 Entry Draft has a good shot at leading all blueliners in points, in addition to ranking among the tourney leaders in plus/minus rating (+8) and ice time (25:38).

This is Smith’s third time in the last four years being named one of the U.S.’s best players at the World Championship; he notched an assist in 21:12 of ice time against the Czechs on Thursday to finish fourth on the team in points (3g-5a-8pts) and tied for third in goals. In 29 career World Championship games since 2011, the 2009 fourth-round pick has 30 points (10g-20a).

Ellis ends his first World Championship with five points (1g-4a) and a +8 rating in eight games. His point total was tops among Canadian blueliners, while his plus/minus rating was tops and his assist total tied for first among all Team Canada skaters.

The Nashville Predators have 13 representatives at the 2014 World Championship being held May 9-25 in Minsk, Belarus. Head Coach Peter Laviolette, Assistant Coach Phil Housley, Video Coach Lawrence Feloney, Seth Jones and Craig Smith are representing the United States, who is looking for back-to-back medals at the tournament after a bronze a year ago; Miikka Salomaki, Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros are playing for Finland; Calle Jarnkrok and Mattias Ekholm are looking to defend Sweden’s crown at the tournament; Simon Moser and Roman Josi represented Switzerland; and Ryan Ellis is playing for Canada.

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