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USA wins World Junior opener

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
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Nick Bjugstad scored at 3:08 of overtime as Team USA got its defense of the World Junior Championship gold medal off to a strong start with a 3-2 win over Finland on Sunday night at Buffalo, N.Y.

The American team, which includes Rangers prospects Chris Kreider and Ryan Bourque, had led 2-1 until late in the third period, when Finland scored to force overtime.

Chris Kreider
Both Kreider and Bourque were members of the U.S. squad that won gold in Saskatchewan last January, and they are among eight returning members of that team. Bourque is serving as an alternate captain, while Kreider is skating on the top scoring line and had an assist in Sunday's win.

Team USA took a 1-0 lead late in the first period, when Justin Faulk scored on a power play off assists from Kreider and John Merrill at the 18:54 mark. That lead held up through 20 minutes, as the Americans outshot the Finns 9-7.

Finland came back to tie the game at 13:50 of the second period, but only 78 seconds later, the Americans were back in front, 2-1, on an unassisted goal by Jason Zucker. The Finns outshot the Americans 14-10 in the middle period, and held a 23-17 shots advantage after 40 minutes. Bourque fired two of Team USA's 10 second-period shots.

Finland tied the score with an even-strength goal by Iiro Pakarinen at 12:59 of the third period. There was no further scoring in the third, and the game went to overtime.

Shots were 12-11 in favor of Team USA in the third period, although Finland had a 34-30 overall advantage in shots for the game. Kreider had his lone shot on goal in the third period, while Bourque also had a third-period shot to finish the game with three.

Ryan Bourque
Bjugstad's game-winning shot was the only one on goal by either team in the overtime.

Kreider opened the game on Team USA's top line alongside fellow NHL first-round draft picks Charlie Coyle and Kyle Palmieri, while Bourque skated on the third line alongside fellow alternate captain Jeremy Morin and Bjugstad, a 2010 first-round pick of the Florida Panthers.

The American team returns to action on Tuesday against Slovakia.

In another World Junior Championship tournament game involving a Rangers prospect on Sunday, Sweden beat Norway 7-1. Blueshirts 2010 draftee Jesper Fasth assisted on a goal by Tim Erixon at 0:49 of the third period, stretching Sweden's lead to 5-0 at the time.

Fasth, who skated on Sweden's top line, finished with one shot on goal and a plus-1 rating.

Rangers prospect Roman Horak, who is playing in his second straight World Junior tournament with the Czech Republic, will begin play on Monday, when the Czechs face Norway.
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