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Rangers prospects Chris Kreider
and Ryan Bourque
turned in their best performances of the USA National Junior Evaluation Camp on Saturday afternoon at Lake Placid, N.Y., as they helped lead Team USA to an 8-3 victory over Finland in the camp's final game.
The U.S. squad, which will look to defend its 2010 World Junior Championship gold medal this winter in Buffalo, roared back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits with seven unanswered goals, including five in the second period, to crush the Finns.
With their dominating performance over the final 40 minutes, the Americans made a big statement about their potential for becoming the first USA squad to win back-to-back World Junior gold medals. Team USA finished the three-team double-round-robin Evaluation Camp schedule with a 3-1-0 record, tying Team Sweden for the best overall mark. Rangers prospect Jesper Fasth
, a 2010 sixth-round pick, played for Sweden, picking up a goal and assist over the four games.
The Americans' only loss came against the Swedes on Friday, while the Finns went home winless in their four games. Kreider played all four U.S. games and had two goals, while Bourque played in three -- missing the first win over Finland -- and registered one assist.
On Saturday, Kreider scored the Americans' first goal in the opening period, and Bourque made a beautiful play to set up Zach Budish for a 5-3 lead in the second period. Both players saw a lot of ice time and had a big hand in sparking the second-period turnaround that left the Finns reeling.
As returning members of the 2010 gold-medal U.S. team, Kreider and Bourque are all but assured of being part of the team that will go to Buffalo in December. Only a handful of players must still be trimmed from roster, and given there strong performances in Lake Placid, it is almost certain that the two Rangers prospects will survive those cuts.
Kreider was the Rangers' 2009 first-round draft pick, while Bourque, who grew up as a childhood friend of Kreider's in Boxford, Mass., was the Blueshirts' 2009 third-rounder. Last year they teamed with fellow Rangers prospect Derek Stepan
in winning gold at Saskatchewan. Stepan has since signed a pro contract and aged out of eligibility for the World Juniors, which are restricted to players under 20 years old.
Heading into the game against Finland, U.S. coach Keith Allain, who will lead the Americans in Buffalo, shuffled his lines a bit after the team's 4-1 loss to Sweden on Friday
Kreider moved up to the No. 1 line with Florida Panthers first-rounder Nick Bjugstad and Anaheim first-rounder Kyle Palmieri, a former high school star in New Jersey. Bourque was on Team USA's third line with Zach Budish, moved up from the fourth line after scoring vs. Sweden on Friday, and Beau Bennett, a Southern California native drafted by Pittsburgh in this year's first round.
With his team trailing 2-0 in the first period, Kreider scored his second goal of the four games at 11:58 when he was credited with deflecting home a right-point shot from defenseman Adam Clendening.
The play developed as Kreider moved from the left boards toward the center to try to open a shooting lane for Clendening, who had taken a pass from Palmieri. As Kreider bore down on defenseman Tommi Kivisto in the high slot, he redirected the puck low on the ice past Gibson. Initially, Clendening's shot appeared to have gone in off Kivisto's stick rather than Kreider's, but the goal was awarded to the Rangers' prospect. Kreider had also scored on the power play against Finland in a game played on Wednesday.
Kreider saw considerable ice time in the opening period, including a long stretch of power-play time after the Finns were called for interference at the 15:11 mark. Throughout the game on the power play, Kreider skated with Atlanta Thrashers prospect Jeremy Morin and San Jose first-rounder Charlie Coyle, his linemates over the first three games.
The Finns scored the game's first two goals -- including the opener on a power-play at 3:21 of the first period with Budish off for high-sticking. Julius Junttila got the first goal as he deflected home a long shot from Jani Hakanpaa, who unloaded from just inside the blue line across from U.S. goalie Jack Campbell, the Dallas Stars first-rounder who won the 2010 gold-medal game in Saskatchewan.
Finland's second goal came at the 11:19 mark, when Jonas Donskoi took a Junttila feed in the left circle and wasted no time sending it past Campbell for the 2-0 lead that lasted only 39 seconds before Kreider got Team USA on the board.
Finland made it a 3-1 game just 33 seconds into the middle period when Iiro Pakarinen came out from behind the net to Campbell's right and shot it up high for a pretty goal off an assist from Donskoi.
That would prove to be the game's turning point, as the Americans roared back for five straight goals in the middle period, outshooting the Finns 12-6 over those 20 minutes to put the game away.
Team USA cut the lead to 3-2 at the 2:50 mark when Austin Watson took a Connor Brickley pass all alone in front of Gibson and drove an eight-footer past the goalie. The Watson goal came only a few seconds after Bourque had helped the U.S. generate some momentum by getting the puck deep into Finnish territory as he dumped it into the zone as he was hit hard at the blue line. Shortly before the Bourque play, Kreider and Palmieri generated the first bit of offense in response to the Pakarinen goal. The Kredier-Palmieri-Bjugstad line then drew the second period's first penalty when Jani Hakanpaa went off for kneeing Palmieri at 5:09.
Palmieri made the Finns pay for that penalty when he scored from a bad angle to the left of Gibson at 7:02, tying the game at 3-3. Bennett and Jon Merrill assisted on the play. The goal came after a tremendous amount of U.S. pressure in which Kreider had played a big role.
The Americans got a power play when Finland's Teemu Tallberg sent the puck over the glass from his own zone at 8:46, and with only 10 seconds left in that delay-of-game penalty, Bjugstad backhanded home a loose puck after Gibson gave up a big rebound for the go-ahead goal to make it 4-3 at 10:36 of the second. Bjugstad's team-leading third goal was scored seconds after Kreider and the No. 1 power-play unit had come off the ice after controlling the puck in Finland's zone for much of the man-advantage.
Bourque then set up Budish for a 5-3 lead with one of the game's best individual plays. After intercepting a clearing pass at the Finland blue line, Bourque skated down toward the net and sent the puck ahead right onto the stick of Budish, who rifled the puck into the left side of the goal at 12:07. That goal prompted the Finns to make a goaltending change, as Gibson was relieved by Jonathan Iilahti.
The goalie shift didn't help Finland any, as Watson collected a Brickley pass on the right wing, drove to the net and deked Iilahti before chipping it over the netminder's pads for his second goal of the game -- and a 6-3 lead -- at 16:23.
Although the third period was essentially reduced to garbage time, the Americans continued to pour it on with two more goals.
Palmieri, who had just come on the ice to start a line change, scored at 9:14 of the third period to make it 7-3, recording his second goal and third point of the game. Kreider nearly followed that up with another goal, but was denied by a great Iilahti save. Morin eventually made it 8-3, taking a pass from Coyle in the slot, at 12:08.