U.S. facing Russian test at WJC after surviving upset-filled quarters

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Down went Sweden.

Down went Canada.

The Czechs put up a late fight, but couldn’t knock off the U.S. during Wednesday’s quarterfinal at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship. The victory by the Americans allowed them to move on to face a tough semifinal matchup with Russia on Friday (4 p.m. ET; NHL Network, TSN).

It will be a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal that saw the U.S. come out on top 4-2 before falling to the Swedes in the semfinals and settling for a bronze medal. Two years ago the countries met in the semifinals with the Americans getting a 4-3 win after a shootout before moving on and topping Canada in the gold medal game.

Two weeks ago the teams got a good look at one another in a pre-tournament tune up with the U.S. winning. That result isn’t on the minds of the Russians, however.

“We played them in an exhibition game, right? We know there’s a couple good guys on this team, but it’s the whole team,” Russian defenseman Dmitri Samorukov told IIHF.com. “Doesn’t matter (about the past), different team. Different year, right? We’ll just play our best game. We’re trying to play better and better every game so I think what we should do right now is forget about this (quarter-final) game.”

The Russians come into this semifinal undefeated with the best scoring efficiency (15.54 percent), best power play (31.3 percent), and second-best penalty killing unit (89.5 percent), while averaging 4.6 goals per game. They failed to medal a year ago and last won gold in 2011.

This is the fourth straight year that the U.S. has reached the semifinals and they’ve done so without having Jack Hughes, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, for three games. They haven’t relied on one player to carry the offensive load.

“Confidence is really high and the guys trust each other a lot right now,” said U.S. forward Josh Norris, who has two goals and five points in five games. “I think timing is pretty big in this tournament, to be playing good at the right times.”

The U.S. rebounded from a failed comeback attempt vs. Sweden to down Finland 4-1 and close out the preliminary round in second place in Group B. The quarterfinal win against the Czech Republic kept their gold medal hopes alive while two of the tournament favorites fell.

The Americans have had 10 different players record their 21 goals, with Ryan Poehling (Montreal Canadiens, 2017 first round) leading the way with five. Goaltender Cayden Primeau (Canadiens, 2017 seventh round) has stopped 45 of the last 47 shots he’s faced and posted a .933 save percentage in three starts.

“When you can have different people contribute in different ways that’s when you start to get a little momentum as a group, said U.S. head coach Mike Hastings. “I think this group’s generated that momentum because they’re playing pretty selfless hockey. When you play the right way, the game has a tendency to reward you back… It’s really enjoyable to see them playing for each other the way they’ve been.”

Finland takes on Switzerland (7:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN) in the other semifinal. The winners will meet Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET (NHLN, TSN) for gold at Rogers Arena.


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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