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U.S. falls in last tuneup for quarterfinals

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Discuss it on Blueshirts United

Stepan's Postcard from Slovakia
Tournament Over for Gaborik, Slovaks
Rangers' Stats at World Championships

Rangers forward Derek Stepan extended his IIHF World Championship point streak to a perfect six games, but it wasn't enough for victory on Monday, as Team USA fell to Switzerland 5-3 in its final qualification-round game at Kosice, Slovakia.

The Americans, whose roster includes Stepan, Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, and Blueshirts prospect Chris Kreider, had already clinched a berth in the tournament quarterfinals with their win over France on Saturday.

Team USA will now travel to the Slovak capital of Bratislava to open the quarterfinals against the Czech Republic on Wednesday. The Americans, who finished fourth in Group F, will be facing the defending gold medalists, who won Group E in the qualification round.

Team USA has not won a medal at the Worlds since taking bronze in 2004.

Derek Stepan
The Swiss, who were not in contention for a medal, played an inspired game in their finale. They built up a 4-2 lead through two periods and then held on for the win, which was sealed by an empty-net goal with 17 seconds remaining.

Team USA outshot Switzerland 34-29, but Swiss goalie Tobias Stephan came up big with 31 saves.

Stepan, the No. 1 center for Team USA, finished his afternoon with five shots in 17:38 of ice time. He saw 8:16 of ice time in the third period alone, as U.S. coach Scott Gordon looked for more offense. Kreider, the Rangers' 2009 first-round pick who has spent two seasons at Boston College, played on the third line and saw 8:15 of ice time. McDonagh had two shots on goal in 15:38.

Held without a point for more than 58 minutes, Stepan kept his streak alive when he helped set up James Van Riemsdyk for a late goal to make it 4-3. Stepan's eight points (two goals, six assists) and 22 shots on goal in six tournament games lead Team USA.

With goaltender Al Montoya puled for an extra attacker and the Americans applying desperate pressure in the Swiss zone, Stepan picked up the puck along the right boards and fed it back to defenseman Cam Fowler, who sent a cross-ice pass to Van Riemsdyk, cutting toward the Swiss crease just off the right side of Stephan. Van Riemsdyk, playing his first game for the Americans after his Philadelphia Flyers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, drove it into the net with 1:43 left in the third period.

Ryan McDonagh
Canadian-born Ryan Gardner, who now lives in Switzerland, scored into the empty net to clinch the win for his team.

The Swiss did most of their damage in a big second period that dropped the U.S. into a two-goal deficit, first at 3-1 and then at 4-2 following a goal by Team USA's Ryan Shannon

Switzerland made it a 3-1 game just 66 seconds in the second period, when Ivo Ruthemann scored from the base of the right circle on the rebound of a shot by Matthias Bieber that had caught the post behind U.S. starting goaltender TyConklin. Bieber's blast came off the rush and was fired from the top of the left circle. Conklin was out of position after the big shot by Bieber, leaving a wide-open net for Ruthemann.

Team USA came back to make it 3-2 when Shannon scored on a partial breakaway at 6:09 of the second. Shannon took a pass from Andy Miele in the neutral zone, flew in over the blue line and drove all the way to Stephan for a deke under the goaltender's left pad as he was being pulled down by a Swiss defender. A penalty called on the play was washed out by Shannon's goal.

Stepan nearly tied the game just under a minute later, backhanding a shot from just outside the crease that Stephan was able to turn aside.

Switzerland responded to Shannon's goal by making it 4-2 on Kevin Lotscher's second goal of the game at 11:00 of the second. Lotscher, moving in from the right boards, fired a long shot from just inside the right circle after Conklin had mishandled the puck while playing it behind the net. Conklin's attempted pass came right to Lotscher, who wasted no time sending it into the goal.

Chris Kreider
The fourth Swiss goal prompted USA head coach Scott Gordon to pull Conklin from the game and replace him with former Rangers draft pick Montoya, who started preliminary-round games, but had not yet played in the qualification round.

Through two periods, shots on goal were even at 20-20. Stepan had one of Team USA's shots in 4:55 of ice time, while Kreider played only 2:14 of the second, and McDonagh saw 5:26, bringing him to 10:46 through two periods.

Switzerland had outshot Team USA 10-9 in the first period and took  a 2-1 lead into the first intermisison

Team USA got the game's first goal at 11:01 of the opening period, when Nashvill prospect Craig Smith, a former teammate of Stepan's at the University of Wisconsin, charged into the slot and picked up a perfect centering pass from Clay Wilson before sending the puck past Switzerland's stephan at 11:01 of the opening period.

Stepan, who won the offensive-zone faceoff that got the scoring play started, was on the ice for his linemate Smith's goal. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk picked up the second assist on the play.

Switzerland quickly responded to tie the game 1-1 when Lotscher picked up a loose puck in the left circle after a turnover by Kreider and blasted it past Conklin at 11:35. Part of the problem for Kreider was that he was not playing his natural position of center on the play -- having been moved to the left wing on a new line with Jack Skille and Tim Stapleton to make room for the addition of Van Riemsdyk.

The Swiss went up 2-1 at 14:10 of the first on a surprising go-ahead goal by Raphael Diaz, who chipped a shot from the left circle off of Conklin as he came out to play the angle. The puck slid over the goal line just before defenseman Mike Brown could backhand it out, and the play required video review to confirm Diaz's goal.

Stepan finished the first period with two shots and a plus-1 rating in 4:27 of ice time. Kreider saw 3:25 of ice time in the first, and McDonagh also fired a pair of shots in 5:20, as he again played on the top defense pairing with Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks.
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