The four games on Wednesday featured some of the best action we've seen thus far at the 2012 World Junior Championships. We saw Finland bounce back in a big way from their embarrassing opening loss to Canada and Sweden just barely survive a feisty Switzerland team. Also, has Canada found themselves a new goaltender?
After the jump, we'll take you through all of yesterday's action and preview the pair of games on today's slate.
Finland may have turned Group B on its' ear with a major bounceback effort in a 4-1 victory over the Americans in the afternoon game yesterday in Edmonton. The Finns, playing with a major chip on their shoulder, handed the United States their first loss of the tournament on Wednesday on the strength of three third-period goals, two by Buffalo Sabres 2011 first-rounder Joel Armia.
Finnish goaltender Sami Aittokallio was phenomenal, stopping 38 of 39 shots, and kept the Finns in the game through two periods in which they were outshot 24-9. He only surrendered one goal to Brandon Saad off a broken faceoff play 19 seconds into the third period, tying the game at 1.
After the Saad goal seemed to give the Americans new life, Armia quickly took it away. He capitalized on a offensive zone turnover by one of two US defenseman returning from last year's squad, Derek Forbert. Ristolainen stripped Forbert standing still at the blue line and moved the puck quickly through the neutral zone. Markus Granlund found Armia splitting the D to put the Finns up 2-1.
Just 29 seconds later, Mikael Granlund banked the puck off the skate of Jon Merrill, the other returning American defenseman, and past Gibson to double the Finns lead to 3-1, completely deflating the US.
Armia added his second of the game late in the period, fed alone in front by Donskoi off another Forbert turnover, this time on the half-wall. Three of Finland's four goals could be attributed to defensive miscues.
The US will have to rebound quickly, as they face a feisty Czech team on Friday. Although Gibson was strong for much of Wednesday's game, expect to see Jack Campbell back in net. Finland now has new life against Denmark Friday night.
Canada held off a resilient Czech team last night in Edmonton, pulling out a 5-0 win in a stellar performance by goaltender Scott Wedgewood.
Wedgewood, considered by many the strongest goaltender in Canada's development camp, looked every bit of it with 26 saves in a shutout performance that also included a secondary assist on Ryan Strome's second-period goal.
Canada opened the scoring at 5:37 of the first period with his fourth of the tournament, placing him for second in goals. Canada would not score again until the 16:16 mark of the second, when Wedgewood's rink long pass would set up the eventual tally for Strome. Less than two minutes later, Brett Connolly would dangle to the front of the net for a 3-0 Canada lead.
Mark Scheifele added two third period goals about six minutes apart to ice it for Canada.
The Czechs hung tough, but Canada was able to keep pressing and chip away over the course of 60 minutes. One reason was the strong play of Wedgewood, who may very well get his second start Thursday against a far weaker Denmark squad.
The Russians played their second straight tight game, holding off a fierce Slovakian team 3-1 .
The Slovaks managed to exit the first period with a lead on Milos Bubela's late goal, but that was all they would manage.
Andrei Makaraov was strong for Russia, stopping 31 of 32 shots, but most concerning for Russia was their own offensive output. This high-octane stable of Russian forwards has managed only six goals in their two wins, despite registering 40 shots on goal last night.
Igor Ozhiganov, Mikhail Naumenkov, and Mikita Kucherov all scored for Russia to overcome the 1-0 deficit.
The Slovaks will take on Sweden on Friday, while Russia will take on Latvia (0-2) Thursday. If the Russians can't increase their offensive production, then goaltenders Makarov and Vasilevski, one goal between them in two starts, will need to be much bigger stories than we anticipated for Russia to have any medal-round success.
Sweden won the day's most dramatic contest, needing a shootout to squeak by Switzerland, 4-3. The game that was fellow THS editor Mike Salerno's upset pick of the day, lived up to its billing, as the Swiss rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the third period to force a shootout on a goal by defenseman Dean Kukan with time winding down.
Max Friberg opened the scoring in the first with his tournament-leading fifth goal. Joel Vermin of Switzerland responded five minutes into the second before Sweden's Joakim Nordstrom tallied late in the second and Ludvig Rensfeldt extended the lead to 3-1 early in the third.
But a Swiss team that outshot the Russians two days earlier came on strong in the second half of the third. Vermin scored his second of the game to bring it to within a goal, and Kukan scored his first of the tournament to tie the game with just over two minutes remaining.
Friberg converted in the shootout for Sweden, which proved to be the game-winning goal, and invoked a bit of Tiger Williams in his celebration:
Sweden survived the scare and will face Slovakia Friday. The Swiss, easily the most talented winless team in the tournament, will take on Latvia.
Two games on the ledger today as Canada and Russia see the easiest opponents on their schedule. Russia will need to get their offense in gear against Latvia at 6 p.m. EST as they prepare for their final game against the Swedes. The Canadians face Denmark at 8 p.m. EST in their final tune-up for their big matchup with the Americans on New Year's Eve.
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