International Ice Hockey Federation

USA tops group B

Dramatic overtime win for Americans

Published 12.05.2015 19:33 GMT+2 | Author Andy Potts
USA tops group B
OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 12: USA's Jack Eichel #9 stickhandles the puck with pressure from Slovakia's Marek Daloga #71 during preliminary round action at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Jack Eichel gets the winner with 30 seconds left in overtime to shatter a brave fightback from Slovakia and set up a quarter-final against Switzerland.

Eichel's goal finally saw the USA get the verdict after an almighty scare from a Slovakia team that hauled back a 0-3 deficit to lead 4-3 before succumbing at the last.

The promising prospect fired home as the clock ran down on overtime to settle a game that seemed to be over inside five minutes but kept another full house on the edge of its seats until the final moment.

"It was great to get the goal there," said Eichel, who had been the butt of some good-natured ribbing within after his first goal came from an accidental deflection in the previous game. "That was great play by [Justin] Faulk to get the puck up and I don't think the goalie even saw it.

"It's good for us to win our bracket and be able to control our own destiny."

Slovakia's starting goalie Jan Laco lasted just 4:11 as his team made a disastrous start. He allowed two goals off just four shots and saw another incident referred to the video officials before he was pulled in favour of Julius Hudacek. Laco was reprieved in the second minute when the screens showed that Matt Hendricks’ attempt to force a Steve Moses shot into the net hadn’t crossed the line, but there was no doubt that the USA had opened the scoring on 2:36. Ben Smith claimed it, hanging out his stick to deflect John Moore’s shot past the goalie.

There was no respite for the Slovaks. Marian Gaborik was sin-binned on 3:23 and it took just 48 seconds for the power play to find its target thanks to a close range lifter from Seth Jones. Dylan Larkin almost made it three when he pinged one against the post in the ninth minute as the Americans threatened to run riot and the game seemed to be up just 27 seconds into the middle session when another shot from the blue line, this time from Justin Faulk, was tipped home by Anders Lee to make it 3-0.

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At last, Slovakia stirred to produce a performance worthy of head coach Vladimir Vujtek's last game in charge. Cashing in on a power play, Vladimir Dravecky’s shot found Gaborik battling in the slot and his firm deflection got his team on the scoreboard. Four minutes later it was 3-2, with Hellebuyck conceding twice in a game for the first time in this championship. Gaborik made it, powering around the back and picking out rookie defenceman Adam Janosik for a shot that took a looping deflection into the net off the luckless Brock Nelson’s stick. That brought the staunchly pro-Slovak crowd back to life and the storm was unleashed in the 37th minute when their heroes tied the game. Marek Daloga banged in another shot from the point and the puck bounced off US defenceman Mike Reilly for Dravecky to put it into an empty net.

If the roar that greeted that goal was loud, the noise two minutes later was deafening as Slovakia sensationally took the lead. Dominik Granak’s superb pass from deep in his own zone picked out Milan Bartovic on the blue line and the Slovan Bratislava forward advanced to win his duel with Hellebuyck.

"Today we started the game knowing we could not qualify for the quarter final," said Vujtek. "We felt like we'd failed and we had nothing to play for and it was hard to motivate the players. But after we started badly we tied it up in the second period and I hope our fans enjoyed the way we played later in the game."

Suddenly team USA was on the point of losing top spot and facing a tricky trip to play the Czechs in Prague, but the response was swift. Once again it was a goal scored by shooting into traffic. Zach Redmond let one rip from the top of the circle and Minnesota Wild's Charlie Coyle, in only his second game of the championship, did well to steer it in from the slot.

"For whatever reason it seems that second periods have been a struggle for us," said USA forward Trevor Lewis. "We definitely have to clean that up moving forward but Charlie’s goal in the second was huge for us."

The third period saw both teams continue to put a huge amount of effort into the game, but chances were harder to come by and tempers began to boil over. A 44th-minute fight saw two separate brawls, one involving Marek Viedensky and Moore, the other pitting Torey Krug against Libor Hudacek. After that had simmered down another spat flared up between Nelson and Richard Panik.

Lee wasn't fazed by the rough stuff, though. "I think it was just two teams battling for the win," he said. "Both teams really wanted it and sometimes tempers flare a little bit and you get into guys. It's part of the game and I don't think anyone took offence."

However, it was impossible to separate the teams despite some good chances late on for both teams. Coyle saw Julius Hudacek make a big save to deny him with five left and Steve Moses also went close, but Patrik Lusnak fired agonisingly wide at the other end as the game went to overtime.

Team USA moves on to 16 points, three clear of Finland and Russia, and will take top spot regardless of the outcome of the evening game. The Americans' superior head-to-head record against both teams is enough to secure first place and a quarter-final against Switzerland here in Ostrava on Thursday.