BERN, Switzerland – The U.S. used Friday’s game at the IIHF World Hockey Championship as a tuneup for a much more important matchup.
David Backes had a goal and two assists to lead a balanced attack as the Americans cruised past France 6-2 in qualifying round action.
The Americans admitted afterward that they’re already focused on Saturday’s game against Russia that will determine top spot in Group E – and likely a top seeding for the quarter-finals.
“The U.S. gets up for two teams – that’s Canada and Russia,” coach Ron Wilson said. “We’ll be motivated. It’ll be fun.”
The win gives the Americans sole possession of second place in the group, one point back of Russia.
Elsewhere, unbeaten Finland was taken to overtime by Slovakia before Sami Kapanen scored his second goal 3:39 into the extra period for a 2-1 victory. The Finns trail Canada by a point in Group F after three games.
The U.S. got first-period power play goals from forwards Kyle Okposo and Backes – each with his first of the tournament – and padded the lead in the second period on goals from Ryan Shannon, Patrick O’Sullivan and Keith Ballard.
Goalie Al Montoya made his senior international debut and had 14 saves for the win. He was beaten twice in the second on power-play goals by Yorick Treille and Pierre Edouard Bellemare.
Defenceman Jack Johnson completed the scoring midway through the third period with his fourth goal in four games.
“Getting in the right spot is the easy part. My teammates keep getting me the puck,” Johnson said. “It was a dangerous game because you know you’re supposed to win. We’re just glad to get it out of the way.”
Wilson said his team dominated the first half as France drew 33 penalty minutes in the first period alone.
“We’re using our speed and taking the puck to the net. The only thing the French could do was foul us and we took advantage with our power play,” he said.
“When the game gets a little out of hand and you’re not worrying about the other team so much you get a little sloppy. Hopefully we didn’t allow too many habits to creep in.”
Montoya, a world junior gold medallist in 2004, was drafted sixth overall by the New York Rangers in 2004 and made his NHL debut for Phoenix Coyotes only a month ago.
“Representing your country every single time it’s an honour,” the 24-year-old Montoya said. “It’s a different kind of game, it’s more open ice obviously and the game comes at you differently. A win feels good.”
The U.S. added New Jersey Devils goalie Scott Clemmensen to its roster Friday. Robert Esche, who plays for St. Petersburg in Russia, will start Saturday, Wilson said.
Joe Pavelski, the San Jose Sharks forward coming off a 25-goal season, has arrived in Switzerland and will dress for the first time in the tournament against Russia.
At Kloten, Finland captain Kapanen scored a shorthanded goal late in the first before Slovakia captain Lubos Bartecko tied the game early in the second.
In the relegation group Friday, Austria beat Hungary 6-0 on a Thomas Koch hat trick and goals from Thomas Vanek, Oliver Setzinger and Roland Kaspitz. Bernd Bruckler had 28 saves for the shutout while Levente Szuper stopped 54 shots for the Hungarians.
Elsewhere, Denmark beat Germany 3-1 in Zurich. Mikkel Boedker, Peter Regin and Nichlas Hardt scored for the Danes, while Christoph Schubert countered for Germany.