Sunday's games did not disappoint, leaving multiple teams in do-or-die situations on Monday.
Another day of games has passed at the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships, and even though today was chock-full of exciting hockey and compelling story lines, the most important outcomes of today's results are what they mean for the rest of the tournament and each nation's individual medal hopes.
The only game that I was able to watch on Sunday was Canada versus the USA, but it certainly lived up to expectations as another rich chapter in the hockey rivalry between the two countries. Both teams came out physical and aggressive, attacking relentlessly on the forecheck and transitioning smoothly throughout the large international ice, and were mostly able to remain focused and composed throughout.
Despite both teams sticking to their game plans and playing their best games of the tournament so far, only one team could walk away the victor and that turned out to be Canada, skating away with a close 2-1 decision.
The Canadians picked up two goals in the first period thanks to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ryan Strome and never really looked back. They played smart, safe defensive hockey once they gathered the lead, but weren't afraid to keep pushing the play forward and back into the American zone.
The Americans definitely pushed back, scoring a powerplay tally midway through the third period and generating tons of dangerous scoring chances right up until the final buzzer, but were unable to successfully solve Canadian goaltender Malcolm Subban, who played his best game of the tournament, turning aside 36 out of 37 shots and winning the honors of player of the game for Canada.
Stars prospect Brett Ritchie had a good afternoon, setting up Strome with a nice pass on Canada's second goal and finishing with a +1, but most impressive is that he did so while not playing at 100% health. TSN commentators Gord Miller and Ray Ferraro briefly discussed Ritchie being really banged up heading into the game, which showed itself on ice at times as well as on Ritchie's wincing face while sitting on the bench. Regardless, he still played through the pain and is likely to continue doing so as Canada advances onwards.
2012 Winnipeg Jets first rounder Jacob Trouba scored the lone goal for the US and was unquestionably the best player on the ice for his team, leading them with six shots on net, throwing a lot of solid hits, and rarely being caught out of position at either end of the ice. Seth Jones, on the opposite end of the spectrum, had a game that he will likely want to forget. Jones was on the ice for both of Canada's goals against, including losing his defensive zone coverage of Strome in what turned out to be the game-winning goal for Canada. John Gibson was phenomenal in the USA's net, but was still stuck one step behind Subban.
Elsewhere on Day 5, Finland topped Switzerland 5-4 in the shootout, the Czech Republic topped Latvia 4-2, and Slovakia beat Germany 2-1 in overtime.
Yesterday I wrote that the Finland-Swiss game would have been one worth keeping an eye on, but even I didn't expect what transpired. Going into the third period tied 2-2 the Swiss jumped ahead thanks to two quick goals and held a 4-2 lead late into the frame. However, Finland stormed back with goals from two of their top forwards, Teuvo Teravainen and Markus Granlund, the latter of which coming with only 1:40 left on the clock and Finland's net empty. After a scoreless overtime Granlund (who also scored earlier in the second period) capped off a tremendous game by scoring the game-winning goal in the shootout.
Radek Faksa registered his first point of the tournament, assisting on Martin Frk's second period marker, as the Czechs won their second game in a row, despite Latvia hanging on for their tournament's life and even keeping the game tied 2-2 until the third period.
Germany played their best game of the tournament, but it was too little, too late as they lost once again, eliminating their hopes at advancing to the medal round.
Even though the tournament's medal rounds don't officially begin until Wednesday, tomorrow's games hold a ton of weight. Depending on the outcomes of the games tomorrow three teams will keep their medal hopes alive, while two unlucky ones will be forced into the relegation round.
Monday's schedule looks like this (all times in Central Time):
-Czech Republic versus Switzerland (1:30 AM)
-USA versus Slovakia (4:00 AM)
-Sweden versus Finland (6:00 AM)
-Canada versus Russia (8:00 AM)
The current standings for Group A and Group B can be found at this link. The top team in each group gets a bye to the semi-finals, the second and third place teams go head-to-head for a place in the semis, while the bottom two teams from each group are left to fight for their survival in the relegation round, the losing team of which won't be coming back for the WJCs next year.
Because there are four games being played tomorrow and because the standings are so close, here is a quick rundown of where each team stands and what will need to happen for them if they want to win gold, but we warned: it's incredibly complex and confusing.
-Canada and Russia are both already through to the next round, but it won't be a meaningless affair as their game tomorrow will still determine which team advances directly to the semi-finals and which will have to win an extra game in the quarter-finals.
-The USA - Slovakia game will be sudden death for both teams, with the winner taking the third and final playoff spot in Group B and the loser heading to the relegation round. With both teams facing elimination this could be the real barnburner of the day.
-Sweden is already through to the next round, but would finish second in Group A if they lose in regulation and the Czechs win in overtime.
-The Czech Republic win, they're on to the next round. If they lose and Finland loses, they're still in. But if they lose and Finland wins, then the Czechs will be on the outside looking in.
-If Finland wins in regulation time, they're on to the next round. If they win in extra time and Switzerland loses any way, they're in. If both Finland and the Swiss win their games in extra time, or lose them in regulation, Finland still advances due to winning the head-to-head match between the two teams today. If Finland loses in regulation time and the Swiss win or lose in extra time, then the Swiss go on and Finland doesn't.
-Latvia and Germany have both played all four round robin games and, as mentioned earlier, are already both in the relegation round.