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USA surges past Norwegians in Slovakia

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

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Rangers forward Derek Stepan, defenseman Ryan McDonagh, and prospect Chris Kreider continued to enjoy great success at the 2011 IIHF World Championship tournament in Kosice, Slovakia, on Monday, helping Team USA to a remarkable 4-2 comeback win over Norway.

With the victory, the young and highly-skilled U.S. squad improved to 2-0-0 in the preliminary round and clinched a berth in the qualification round.

Trailing 2-0 entering the final period, Team USA erupted for four goals, with all three Rangers representatives picking up assists in the comeback.

Chris Kreider
The Americans dominated territorial play for most of the game and outshot Norway 49-15, but it took them more than 40 minutes to solve Norwegian goalie Lars Haugen, who finished with 45 saves.

Norway was playing without star forward Mats Zuccarello, who spent half the season with the Rangers, but was forced to miss the World Championship tournament when he injured his hand playing in a postseason game for the AHL's Connecticut Whale.

Nick Palmieri of the New Jersey Devils was the hero for the Americans, scoring two of the three third-period goals, including the game-winner with only 6:16 remaining. Palmieri's first goal came off a brilliant cross-ice pass from linemate Kreider, cutting the lead to 2-1 and jump-starting the U.S. comeback early in the third period.

Kreider, who recently turned 20 years old, now has a goal and an assist in two games at the tournament. One of only two college players on the U.S. roster, he was the Blueshirts' 2009 first-round draft pick. He has spent the past two seasons at Boston College and is considered one of the world's top NHL prospects -- a recognition he is backing up in his second consecutive appearance at the Worlds.

McDonagh picked up an assist on the Americans' second goal -- scored by Jack Skille -- and Stepan set up a perfect deflection for Craig Smith to earn the primary assist on Team USA's final goal, which came on a power play with 1:26 to go. Stepan and Smith had played together during their years at the University of Wisconsin, and their chemistry was evident.

Derek Stepan
Stepan led all forwards in the game with 23:56 of ice time. He also tied Palmieri with a game-high seven shots on goal to go with his assist. Four of Stepan's shots came in the third period.

Kreider saw 16:22 of ice time, had three shots and a plus-1 rating, while McDonagh played 15:19, had one shot on goal and was plus-2.

The big comeback allowed the Americans to continue a 50-year streak of international victories over the Norwegians. No U.S. team has lost to Norway in IIHF or Olympic competition since 1951.

The opportunistic Norwegian team, coming off an overtime shootout upset of Sweden, was impressive in the opening period. Despite being outshot 11-7, Norway came out of the first 20 minutes with a 2-0 lead.

The Norwegians showed they meant business right from the start, as Per-Age Skroder, a former teammate of Zuccarello's in Sweden, hit the crossbar behind U.S. goaltender Al Montoya, a former Rangers draft pick who played for the Islanders this past season, during an early power play. The shot required video review before the goal was disallowed.

Ryan McDonagh
Another video review, just under six minutes later at the 8:09 mark, did not go the Americans' way. This time, Ken Andre Olimb came through the crease and jammed the puck into Montoya's pads. Olimb's shot trickled under the pads and just over the goal line, as the video confirmed, giving Norway a 1-0 lead.

Norway upped the advantage to 2-0 just over a minute later while the Americans were on a power play. With Kristian Forsberg in the box for tripping, Anders Bastiansen capitalized on an offensive zone turnover from Smith and went all the way down the ice for a breakaway goal against Montoya, burying the puck in the top right corner at 9:22.

Kreider came very close to scoring later in the same power play at the period's midpoint, but his hard shot from the slot was stopped by Haugen. McDonagh later took his team's second penalty for hooking Bastiansen in the high slot at 15:44, but Team USA killed off the Norwegian power play.

With only three seconds left in the first period, the speedy Kreider drew an interference call against Norway's Jonas Holos. That penalty carried over into the second period, where Stepan had two early scoring chances that were denied by Haugen. Stepan and Kreider were on the ice together for much of that man-advantage.

Stepan, who was on the ice for the shorthanded goal, led all U.S. forwards with 7:20 of ice time in the first period. Kreider saw 4:46 of ice time, and McDonagh 5:04 in the first.

After being stopped on the power play that featured two blasts from Stepan, the Americans killed off a penalty of their own  -- a bench minor at 2:03 of the second. Stepan was then called for hooking in the neutral zone at 6:18, and Team USA killed the penalty to stay perfect at 4-for-4 when shorthanded.

Back from the penalty box, Stepan and the No. 1 U.S. line created a surge of pressure that forced Haugen to make a tough save on Stepan's third shot of the period at 9:10. Kreider's line followed with another strong shift, as the Americans began to take control of the game with increased puck possession that left the Norwegians scrambling in their own zone.

Stepan's line then drew a penalty to Norway's Mads Hansen for hooking at 12:33, but the Norwegians killed it off after enduring heavy pressure that forced Haugen to make several saves.

Team USA went back on the power play when Norway's Morten Ask was called for interference at 18:39. Stepan worked on the power play for the period's remaining 1:21, but Cam Fowler hit the post on the best U.S. scoring chance before time expired in the second with Norway still up 2-0.

Through 40 minutes, Stepan continued to lead Team USA in ice time, playing a total of 16:12. With extra time coming on the power play, Stepan added a team-high 8:52 in the second period, which also featured 5:24 of ice time for Kreider and 4:57 for McDonagh. Kreider and McDonagh each had a shot on goal in the middle period, while Stepan fired three shots through to Haugen.

The Americans outshot the Norwegians 20-5 in the second period, but Haugen managed to come up with all 20 saves.

Haugen continued his pace by stopping Stepan on the carry-over power play just 15 seconds into the third. Then it all came apart quickly for the Norwegian netminder.

Team USA finally broke through at 1:16 of the first, when Palmieri took a beautiful cross-ice pass from Kreider and scored from just outside the crease to Haugen's left. Kreider blazed down the left wing, and his perfect pass from along the left boards went right over the stick of a defenseman to Palmieri, who was crashing the net for an easy goal. Kreider and Palmieri's linemate, Ryan Shannon, picked up the other assist.

Stepan then nearly scored with a drive from the slot as the U.S. fed off momentum from Palmieri's goal. Team USA took complete control of the game, and a few minutes later, Jack Skille scored at 4:59 to tie the score at 2-2.

Crashing the net, Skille took a centering pass from Tim Stapleton, who had received the puck along the right boards from McDonagh. The assist was McDonagh's first point in IIHF World Championship play.

Kreider was called for slashing at 8:51 of the third, and Team USA had no trouble killing the penalty -- its fifth consecutive successful kill.

Team USA then got a key power play at 12:03 of the third when Blake Wheeler drew a charging penalty against Ole-Kristian Tollefsen as Wheeler went in on a partial breakaway against Haugen. Palmieri used that man-advantage to notch the game-winner at the 13:44 mark. Stationed along the goal line to the right of Haugen, he took a pass from Ryan Shannon and fired in a sharp-angle shot for the winning goal -- his second of the game.

The Americans will close out preliminary-round play against Sweden on Wednesday. The qualification round begins for them on Friday.
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