Toronto — When Nathan MacKinnon deked Henrik Lundqvist out for a highlight-reel overtime goal and got mobbed by teammates, he couldn’t be happier.
Minutes later, MacKinnon found out that the 4-3 victory over Sweden on Wednesday wasn’t enough to get Team North America into the semifinals at the World Cup of Hockey. The most exciting show on ice has two victories and a one-goal loss but needs Finland to beat Russia on Thursday to advance.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have celebrated so hard,” MacKinnon said.
Everything the 23-and-under Team North America does is over the top, most importantly the skill that has made it the focus of the World Cup. Despite playing the two most entertaining games of the tournament, North America is in wait-and-see mode while Sweden is the winner of Group B after getting the point it needed.
Henrik Lundqvist stopped 45 of 49 shots to get Sweden into the semifinals after a horrendous start by the skaters in front of him.
“We gave him a rough start,” said two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, who fell victim to the speed of North America’s Connor McDavid and Johnny Gaudreau early. “As a goaltender, I don’t think I can even imagine how it feels to be that kind of left alone and let in two quick goals. How we can rebound from that I have no idea.”
Auston Matthews scored on a 2-on-1 with McDavid 30 seconds in, and Vincent Trocheck made it 2-0 North America 95 seconds in. Lundqvist stopped a few breakaways and Gaudreau’s penalty shot to keep it from getting out of hand.
Sweden eventually got a handle on North America’s blazing speed, which made the best defense in the tournament look pedestrian.
“We had no choice. We had to. Otherwise it was going to be a disaster,” Karlsson said. “They gave us a slap in the face right away.”
North America is one big slap in the face to unsuspecting opponents, who know how fast the mix of U.S. and Canadian players is but can’t possibly adjust to it before seeing it. Gaudreau later scored for North America, but Sweden got goals from Filip Forsberg, Nicklas Backstrom and Patrik Berglund to get to overtime.
With starting goalie Matt Murray out with a thumb injury, John Gibson stopped 35 of the 38 shots he faced. He looked shaky at times but stopped Daniel Sedin on a breakaway in overtime as one of a few memorable, important saves.
Not down at all about the loss, Sweden went into the game with a full understanding of what it needed to do.
“Always when you step on the ice, you want to win the game, but obviously mission accomplished,” coach Rickard Gronborg said.
It’s the opposite for North America, which went from euphoria to uncertainty. A loss to Russia in the game of the tournament means it’s on the wrong side of a head-to-head tiebreaker and now must hope for Finland to pull off the upset.
“We’re happy we won,” forward Mark Scheifele said. “Winning two games in this tournament is a big step. Hopefully we get some help from Finland.”
Even if North America bows out, more fans will remember this team for its unmatched pace and excitement level than its 2-1 record. Each game featured more than a handful of did-you-see-that moves, and North America left a lasting impact on the sport.
“I think we definitely have turned some heads,” McDavid said.” People didn’t know what to expect when we came into this tournament, but we’ve beat two good hockey teams, and ultimately maybe even should have beat the Russians. I think we’ve definitely turned some heads and opened the eyes of everyone what the future of the NHL is like.”
MacKinnon provided one last highlight with the overtime winner. All alone, the 2013 No. 1 pick beat Lundqvist top shelf like he has been doing that to goalies for decades.
“I saw his stick came up for a poke check and managed to beat that and get it up,” MacKinnon said. “It was fun, a fun goal.”
More World Cup games
Canada 4, Europe 1: Jonathan Toews had two goals and an assist and Team Canada easily beat Europe in its final preliminary round game in the World Cup of Hockey.
Canada won Group A and will face North America or Russia in the first semifinal Saturday night.
Sidney Crosby and Logan Couture also scored, and Corey Crawford made 19 saves.
Marian Hossa scored for Europe, and Jaroslav Halak stopped 42 shots.
U.S. at a loss
Members of Team USA gathered for a few drinks after they were eliminated from the World Cup of Hockey.
There was a lot to discuss.
The United States was surprised by Team Europe and wasn’t good enough against Canada, leading to two losses and a cascade of questions. John Tortorella as coach? Too much grit? Not enough skill? What might change after another all-too-familiar early exit from an international tournament? The pipeline of young talent for next time around?
A few days isn’t enough time to answer all those questions, especially for players whose job was to play a certain style of hockey — not put together a roster or pick the coaching staff.
“I liked our team,” winger Zach Parise said. “I thought we played hard. It’s not a player’s job to speculate who should or shouldn’t be on the team before or after the tournament.”
Phil Kessel took his shot. Left off the team along with scoring forwards Kyle Okposo and Tyler Johnson and defensemen Justin Faulk, Kevin Shattenkirk and Cam Fowler (Farmington Hills), the Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins winger tweeted after the U.S. loss: “Just sitting around the house tonight (with) my dog. Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn’t put my finger on it.”
U.S. management went with a sandpaper style of play that almost resulted in a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics but hasn’t worked since. Center David Backes said he believes that style of hockey can still win if executed correctly.
“To come here and flop like we did is extremely disappointing,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “Obviously we have to examine ourselves and what more could we have done and how can we get better for future tournaments.”
The 0-2 start revealed the Americans brought too much physicality to a skill game. Canada, Russia, Team North America and others have thrived with fast-paced, entertaining hockey. Speed has been king at this international tournament, but Backes noted that the Americans “weren’t going to out-skill Canada.” With the aim of beating Canada, U.S. general manager Dean Lombardi instead built a big team with an edge in hopes of neutralizing the talent of the top hockey power in the world.
Instead, the World Cup showed that depth of talent is everything. Leaving more skilled players at home was too much to overcome.