Team North America is still alive and we are all the better for it. Well, maybe not Russia – which must win Thursday against Finland to head into the playoff round, but hockey fans around the world were treated to an incredible display of skill in North America's 4-3 overtime win against Sweden. Nathan MacKinnon won it for The Kids, pulling out more moves than a breakdancer before burying a backhand in tight against Henrik Lundqvist.
And make no mistake about it: Lundqvist was the only reason Sweden even got to overtime (Nicklas Backstrom was also pretty good, to be fair). North America did what they've been doing all tournament, coming out guns a' blazing and putting the opposition on its heels. This time, Auston Matthews got things going just 30 seconds in thanks to some insanely nice work by Connor McDavid (and some dazzling moves himself). Johnny Gaudreau was hauled down on a breakaway by Erik Karlsson just seconds later and landed himself a penalty shot, but Lundqvist stood him up. Still, the barrage continued and at one point in the first period North America had built a 3-1 lead.
Lundqvist kept the Tre Kronor alive for the rest of the game, making a litany of fantastic saves, while in the other crease, John Gibson struggled -- though he made a great save in overtime to keep the game alive. Sweden's first goal, by Filip Forsberg, definitely should have been stopped. Backstrom's tally at the end of the period came on a nice blast, but with Gibson and his defenders scrambling around.
Even so, North America carried a lead into the third period. But for whatever reason, the dizzying speed didn't show up again until late in the frame. By then, Sweden had tied the game.
“They had some momentum,” said Brandon Saad. “Being down a goal they came out strong. With their desperation, we kinda let our foot off the gas, but we evened it out in overtime.”
The tough thing is, North America now has only one regulation win. If Russia wins tomorrow, The Kids will go home, despite being the most exciting team in the tournament by far. Through the three round robin games, a theme certainly emerged: Every game involved North American jumping all over the opposition and the other team either adapting (Russia) or dying (Finland). Sweden kinda split the difference and Lundqvist was spectacular in getting his squad to overtime.
“He's the king, 'King Henrik,' ” said coach Rickard Gronborg. “He gave us a chance to win. We needed him to play big and he did.”
Sweden finishes first in Group B, as everyone expected. While they were largely outplayed by North America, it's worth noting that they did claw their way back, despite off nights from most of the players on their vaunted defense corps.
As for North America, now they wait. A playoff berth would be huge for The Kids – and the TV broadcasters – but they have already proven that they belonged in this tourney. MacKinnon's stunning overtime winner was the cherry on top.
“Honestly, when I scored I thought we were in,” MacKinnon said with a laugh. “Maybe we shouldn't have cellied (celebrated) so hard.”
Youthful exuberance? Yeah, we can forgive that from this group of fun-as-hell kids.