There couldn't have been a worse seat in the house for Canada's best player on the night.
John Tavares was stuck in the penalty box after an unlucky delay of game penalty on Saturday when Jack Johnson delivered a moment rarely seen at the IIHF World Hockey Championship: A U.S. victory over Canada.
The American captain took advantage of the extra ice during a 4-on-3 overtime and beat Cam Ward with a wrist shot through traffic to secure the 5-4 win. It was the first time the U.S. had beaten Canada at this tournament since 2001 and just the fourth time in 42 tries overall.
“It was a tough way to finish,” said Tavares.
The final dagger came after he batted the puck over the shorter glass at Hartwall Arena from his own zone with just one second to play in regulation. He probably couldn't repeat the feat if he tried.
“It kind of just summed up the way the night went for us,” said Canadian coach Brent Sutter.
The rivals played an entertaining back-and-forth game and Tavares was a standout for Canada along with linemates Jeff Skinner and Patrick Sharp. He scored a goal and an assist, won 11 of 14 faceoffs and was named the team's player of the game despite the costly penalty at the end.
The victory came with a shot of confidence for the underdog Americans. Whether or not it ends up being costly for Canada depends entirely on how the players respond to it.
“It's not like it's the end of the world,” said Sutter. “It's one game. ... It's still right there for us so we just have to get focused for our next game.”
That will come Monday against France, a team the Americans beat 7-2 to open the tournament.
The world championship remains the one international hockey tournament where success has eluded the Americans and this group is out to change that. Johnson wears his country's colours prouder than most — he's competing in his fifth world championship at the age of 25 — and famously quipped during the Vancouver Olympics that he disliked Team Canada.
For him, this victory was about “bragging rights.”
“Everyone on that team, we see throughout the course of the year in the NHL,” said Johnson. “Some guys are teammates, some guys you see quite a bit. Whenever you play Canada it's a big stage and a big deal.”
Johnson rose to the occasion with two goals while Jim Slater, Patrick Dwyer and Nate Thompson each had one for the Americans (2-0-0). Jimmy Howard made 30 saves.
Tavares, Skinner, Evander Kane and Duncan Keith replied for Canada (1-0-1).
It was clear from the get-go that the U.S. had come to play, with Slater opening the scoring just 70 seconds into the game. Tavares soon tied it and the teams continued to swap leads right until the final buzzer.
“We did some good things but I still think we need some more consistency in our game and we need to establish the way we want to play,” said Tavares. “Unfortunately, we couldn't grab it and take control of it when we had good moments in the game.”
The U.S. gained the edge with special teams, scoring twice on the power play and once while short-handed. That costly goal came off the stick of Dwyer early in the third period after a turnover. There were four Canadian players in the vicinity when he beat Ward on a wraparound.
“That short-handed goal they got — that should never happen to you,” said Sutter.
Even still, the Canadian team can take some solace in the fact it never backed down. Not only did Canada tie the score after Dwyer's goal, it also fought back after Thompson made it 4-3 with less than five minutes to play in regulation.
As a result, Sutter was measured in his assessment of the game.
He preached the need for a better overall effort in the defensive end and indicated that the line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Jamie Benn “hit the wall.” Canadian goaltender Cam Ward had a good game despite surrendering five goals — the U.S. outshot Canada 46-23 — leading to one undeniable conclusion.
“When it was all said and done, the best team won tonight,” said Sutter.
Notes: Duncan Keith led Canada with 22:35 of ice time ... Keith also tied Dion Phaneuf with a team-high four shots on goal ... Junior prospect Ryan Murray was used sparingly until the third period, when he filled in for the injured Marc-Edouard Vlasic ... Vlasic suffered an undisclosed lower-body injury and is “day to day,” according to Sutter ... Announced attendance was 6,842.
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