North America beats Sweden in OT, needs help to advance
TORONTO >> When Nathan MacKinnon deked Henrik Lundqvist out for a highlight-reel overtime goal and got mobbed by teammates, he couldn't be happier.
Minutes later, MacKinnon found out that the 4-3 victory over Sweden on Wednesday wasn't enough to get Team North America into the semifinals at the World Cup of Hockey. The most exciting show on ice has two victories and a one-goal loss but needs Finland to beat Russia on Thursday to advance.
"Maybe we shouldn't have celebrated so hard," MacKinnon said.
Everything the 23-and-under Team North America does is over the top, most importantly the skill that has made it the focus of the World Cup. Despite playing the two most entertaining games of the tournament, North America is in wait-and-see mode while Sweden is the winner of Group B after getting the point it needed.
Henrik Lundqvist stopped 45 of 49 shots to get Sweden into the semifinals after a horrendous start by the skaters in front of him.
"We gave him a rough start," said two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, who fell victim to the speed of North America's Connor McDavid and Johnny Gaudreau early. "As a goaltender, I don't think I can even imagine how it feels to be that kind of left alone and let in two quick goals. How we can rebound from that I have no idea."
Auston Matthews scored on a 2-on-1 with McDavid 30 seconds in, and Vincent Trocheck made it 2-0 North America 95 seconds in. Lundqvist stopped a few breakaways and Gaudreau's penalty shot to keep it from getting out of hand.
Sweden eventually got a handle on North America's blazing speed, which made the best defense in the tournament look pedestrian.
"We had no choice. We had to. Otherwise it was going to be a disaster," Karlsson said. "They gave us a slap in the face right away."
North America is one big slap in the face to unsuspecting opponents, who know how fast the mix of U.S. and Canadian players is but can't possibly adjust to it before seeing it. Gaudreau later scored for North America, but Sweden got goals from Filip Forsberg, Nicklas Backstrom and Patrik Berglund to get to overtime.
With starting goalie Matt Murray out with a thumb injury, John Gibson stopped 35 of the 38 shots he faced. He looked shaky at times but stopped Daniel Sedin on a breakaway in overtime as one of a few memorable, important saves.
Not down at all about the loss, Sweden went into the game with a full understanding of what it needed to do.
"Always when you step on the ice, you want to win the game, but obviously mission accomplished," coach Rickard Gronborg said.
It's the opposite for North America, which went from euphoria to uncertainty. A loss to Russia in the game of the tournament means it's on the wrong side of a head-to-head tiebreaker and now must hope for Finland to pull off the upset.
"We're happy we won," forward Mark Scheifele said. "Winning two games in this tournament is a big step. Hopefully we get some help from Finland."
Even if North America bows out, more fans will remember this team for its unmatched pace and excitement level than its 2-1 record. Each game featured more than a handful of did-you-see-that moves, and North America left a lasting impact on the sport.
"I think we definitely have turned some heads," McDavid said." People didn't know what to expect when we came into this tournament, but we've beat two good hockey teams, and ultimately maybe even should have beat the Russians. I think we've definitely turned some heads and opened the eyes of everyone what the future of the NHL is like."
MacKinnon provided one last highlight with the overtime winner. All alone, the 2013 No. 1 pick beat Lundqvist top shelf like he has been doing that to goalies for decades.
"I saw his stick came up for a poke check and managed to beat that and get it up," MacKinnon said. "It was fun, a fun goal."
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