September 21 2016 06:23PM
Credit: Kevin Sousa of USA TODAY Sports
Exhale, everybody. That was undoubtedly the best game of the tournament so far, and if you were watching, count yourself lucky. It will probably end up being the best game of the tournament, period. With a semifinal berth at stake, Team Sweden and Team North America turned in a high-octane thriller that ended in a fitting fashion: An electrifying 3-on-3 OT with end-to-end rushes, dramatic saves, and a beauty of a game-winning goal.
If you missed this one, you'll want to go ahead and watch a replay of the entire game, because this matchup was one for the ages. Sure, there's no history or bad blood between Sweden and this North America team, but there was a whole lot of skill and talent on the ice between the two teams, and we sure saw plenty of it.
There was a lot riding on this game, and the North Americans were without their number one goalie (Matt Murray sat this one out with a thumb injury) and their number one defenseman (Aaron Ekblad is out of the tournament with a concussion). They seemingly weren't feeling the pressure, though, and if they were, they responded well.
The game got off to a flying start. Sweden, which boasts the most well-rounded defense in the tournament, seemed ill-prepared for the North Americans' blazing speed: 30 seconds in, North America was up 1-0 on an Auston Matthews goal off of a Morgan Rielly rebound.
Impressive play by Matthews to collect a McDavid rebound, stickhandle on his knees, and get the puck to Rielly to shoot before cleaning up the rebound. Something tells me that this won't be the first Rielly rebound that Matthews will turn into a goal, which is good news for Leafs fans. Oilers fans will also be pleased to notice that Connor McDavid was the catalyst for this play, cutting through the neutral zone and making one of the best defense pairings in the NHL look silly in the process of getting to the net.
North America didn't settle for a 1-0 lead either. About a minute after Matthews' goal, Vincent Trocheck got his first of the tournament and made it 2-0. Not long after, Filip Forsberg scored Sweden's first goal, and you began to get the feeling that this was going to be a high-scoring affair.
Sweden didn't manage to adjust for a significant portion of the first period, leaving the middle of the ice open and letting the young guns beat them with their incredible speed in transition. There were five breakaways in the first period alone for the kids, and it was Johnny Gaudreau who finally capitalized on one. Gaudreau has been one of North America's most impressive players in the tournament so far, and while he missed a penalty shot earlier in the game, he didn't make any mistakes this time and gave the young guns their second 2-goal lead of the game.
Just like before, though, that lead didn't last long. Nicklas Backstrom's one-timer deflected off of a skate and beat John Gibson to make it 3-2.
After that first period, it would be easy to look at a scoresheet and think that the second period was dull in comparison. That would be a silly assumption, because although there weren't any goals in the period, there were scoring chances galore.
North America pushed hard, getting 21 shots on goal in this period alone. Lundqvist was the best player for the Swedes, looking calm and in control after a shaky first period in which he let in three goals on 16 shots. For the young guns, Gaudreau continued to set the pace. He wreaked havoc while on the ice, and now seems like an appropriate time to remind everyone that he's a still-unsigned RFA. Something tells me that he'll have a bit more leverage over Calgary after this tournament is said and done.
The pace of the second was nearly as fast as in the first, although not quite as frenetic. Sweden still gave the North Americans too much space, but didn't allow the breakaways they did in the first. In any case, the second period didn't yield any goals, so the teams entered the final frame with the North Americans up by one.
In the end, it was Erik Karlsson's point shot, tipped by Patrik Berglund, that tied the game. The score would remain 3-3 through the end of regulation, and the 3-on-3 OT that ensued was 4:11 of breathtaking play. North America had a very good chance early on when Mark Scheifele found Connor McDavid in front of the net, but Lundqvist made a terrific save. Typical Lundqvist stuff.
During the final minute of the OT, it looked like Sweden was going to walk away with two points and end North America's tournament, but Gibson stoned Daniel Sedin on a breakaway and sent North America the other way. Gaudreau continued his incredible play and found Nate MacKinnon on Lundqvist's doorstep. MacKinnon toe-dragged past Lundqvist's poke check and roofed the puck for the game-winning goal.
North America may have won the game, but because the game went beyond regulation time, Sweden walks away with a semifinal berth.
Here's how this shakes out: Sweden needed at least one point to guarantee themselves a spot in the semifinals. They got that point when this game went to OT. North America, on the other hand, needed to win the game in regulation to clinch. With the OT win, however, they ensure that any win by Finland -- whether in regulation or OT -- would send them to the semifinals. If Finland loses in any fashion, both Russia and North America will have 4 points. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record, and Russia beat North America, so they would be the ones to advance.
In short: Three semifinal berths are already occupied. Sweden, Europe, and Canada will all be advancing beyond the group stage. The final spot will come down to tomorrow's game between Finland and Russia.
You can catch that game at 3PM local time. You can bet the North Americans will be watching.