Sabres defensive prospect Casey Fitzgerald (2016, third round) recorded one shot on goal and a minus-two rating in 20:40 of action Wednesday as the United States defeated Russia 4-3 in a thrilling seven-round shootout to move on to the Gold Medal Game of the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Troy Terry (ANA) scored three times in the shootout, including a quick backhand move in round seven to advance the Americans into Thursday's final versus Canada. All three of Terry's tallies went through the legs of Russian netminder Ilya Samsonov (WSH).
The Russians would strike first, capitalizing on poor puck management by the Americans and then working the cycle beneath the goal line to set up a wraparound goal from Kirill Kaprizov (MIN) at 11:54 of the first period.
The Americans knotted the game at a goal apiece with 55.5 seconds left in the opening frame when Clayton Keller (ARI) sent a bad angle shot along the goal line that deflected off Colin White (OTT) and somehow snuck between Samsonov and the goal post.
Russia got off to a quick start to period two, scoring just 1:17 in as Denis Guryanov (DAL) got behind Fitzgerald and knocked the rebound of a point shot past Tyler Parsons (CGY) to make it a 2-1 game.
The trading of goals continued at 10:23 as a Parsons-led breakout resulted in a Luke Kunin (MIN) redirection of an excellent heads-up feed by Jordan Greenway (MIN) right at the doorstep.
The Americans reversed the goal-trading trend, though, taking the 3-2 lead when White scored his second of the game with a knuckleball shot from the right circle that got past Samsonov with 3:39 remaining in the middle stanza.
At 6:04 of the third period, Guryanov outraced Fitzgerald down the ice and scored his second of the game to make it a 3-3 tie to force overtime and the subsequent shootout.
Through six games, Fitzgerald has produced three assists, a plus-1 rating and six shots on goal.
Team USA will play in their first gold medal game since 2013, when team captain Jake McCabe helped the Americans to a 3-1 victory over Sweden.
In the second semifinal, Alexander Nylander (2016, first round) notched one assist and Rasmus Asplund (2016, second round) went hard to the final buzzer to earn his team's Player of the Game honor as Sweden succumbed to Canada 5-2 in the day's second semifinal.
The loss puts Sweden in a bronze medal matchup versus Russia.
Nylander at times out-stickhandled the Canadians, as evidenced by his undressing of Jake Bean on a first-period rush, and out-smarted the Canadians, clearly illustrated by his intercepting of a pass along the left boards in the second period before taking it to the net to draw a hooking penalty, but he was unable to find the back of the net on a night when the Canadians kept getting better and better as the game played on.
Nylander continues to carry the torch as the tournament's leading scorer with 12 points (5+7). Asplund, who has been masterful at the faceoff circle while demonstrating a no-quit attitude and complete 200-foot game, has one goal and seven points in six games entering the third-place contest.
One of eight returning players for the Swedes, Joel Eriksson Ek (MIN) silenced the home crowd at 6:05 of the opening period when he skated down the right wing and slung a wrist shot for a short-handed goal.
The crowd woke back up just 1:38 later when Canada punched right back with a Mitchell Stephens (TBL) goal to even the score, but that was merely Nylander's cue to quiet them once again with his first point of the evening.
With Sweden breaking out of their zone, Nylander chipped a puck off the boards and tipped it to himself in mid-air before quickly zipping a cross-ice pass to spring Carl Grundstrom (TOR) for the breakaway. Grundstrom fanned on the shot, but it went in the net anyways to give Sweden a 2-1 lead and chase Connor Ingram (TBL) from the Canadian net just 8:05 in after allowing two goals on three shots.
Carter Hart (PHI) took over for Ingram, and it appeared to be all Team Canada needed to take control of the game, making 28 stops the rest of the way to earn the nod as Canada's Player of the Game.
Anthony Cirelli (TBL) beat Felix Sandstrom (PHI) high over the blocker with 1:11 left in the first period to send the teams to the first intermission tied 2-2.
Canada continued to dictate the play in the second period, earning the only goal of the frame when Sweden turned the puck over down low in their own zone, allowing Julien Gauthier (CAR) to swoop in, jam the crease and push the puck over the line.
Over seven minutes into the third period, Dylan Strome took a pass from the point, turned and quickly released a shot through traffic to give the Canadians a two-goal lead.
Canada sealed the deal with 1:58 remaining with Gauthier's second of the night into an empty net.
Thursday's gold medal tilt will be a revenge game of sorts for Canada, who fell to the U.S. 3-1 in preliminary round play.
For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker's website, SabresProspects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter (@SabresProspects) for in-game updates throughout the week on any Buffalo prospects that are in action.
Buffalo wil host the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. For more information including ticket packages that guarantee you a seat for the outdoor game between the U.S. and Canada at New Era Field, visit BuffaloWorldJuniors.com.