There were no big surprises on Day Seven of the 2017 World Junior Championship, with the four winning teams all being the ones that were expected to do so.
What that does mean now, however, is that we’re in for some incredible heavyweight hockey in the semifinals on Wednesday.
The four strongest teams in the tournament - the United States, Sweden, Canada and Russia - all won their quarterfinal matches on Monday. As the only four left and the situation being do-or-die, the games still left to come could be some for the ages.
Here’s how things shook out in the opening round of elimination games.
Russia 4, Denmark 0
Kirill Kaprizov continued his torrid scoring pace this tournament with two goals and netminder Ilya Samsonov had his second straight shutout as the Russians overwhelmed Denmark en route to advancing to the next round.
It was a one-sided affair from start to finish, with Russia opening up a 2-0 lead after the first period and then sealing the deal with two more in the third. They would finish with a decisive 32-14 shot advantage. After two strong wins they’ll now have a bit of wind in their sails as they head to face the United States on Wednesday.
For Denmark, their Cinderella tournament won’t take them into the medal games, but their play this year is still a massive success for the smaller hockey nation. They exceeded all expectations and will be able to bring back many of their top players for 2018.
"I'm very proud of our team," said head coach Olaf Eller. "We had a phenomenal tournament, but today we didn't get the bounces we've gotten in previous games. I think we made a bit more progress this year than last year and the year before."
Sweden 8, Slovakia 3
Sweden just keeps clicking, rolling over Slovakia in yet another dominant performance.
Buffalo Sabres prospect Rasmus Asplund had the most noticeable game on the score sheet, picking up four assists, but it was a complete team victory for the Swedes, with six different players scoring goals and a whopping 16 players registering points. They combined for 50 shots on the Slovakian net through the 60 minutes.
Slovakia made things interesting early in the third period, erasing a 5-0 lead to make it 5-3, but that would be as close as they got, with Sweden then scoring the next three to cement their win.
No other club in this tournament has played as well as the Swedes have. With all aspects of their game, from scoring to defense to goaltending to special teams, firing on all cylinders, they seem to be the top team to beat right now.
United States 3, Switzerland 2
It was a nail-biting finish, but the United States would successfully defend a 3-2 lead through the final 14 minutes of the game to maintain their perfect record and eliminate Switzerland.
Tyler Parsons only made 19 saves in the game, but many of them were absolutely huge for the United States, especially in the dying moments.
Jeremy Bracco, Luke Kunin and Jordan Greenway had the goals for the American side, the last of three being the game-winner. Charlie McAvoy had another big night on the blueline, logging 21:36 of ice time.
Swiss forward Nico Hischier was lights-out for his squad, nearly single-handed stealing the game with two goals, including one that briefly made it 2-2 in the third period. A top prospect for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, his play all tournament long was so impressive that he has now entered the conversation to be the first overall pick in that draft.
Canada 2, Czech Republic 1
The World Juniors have developed a reputation over the years for hosting thrilling barn-burners, and boy, was that ever the case between Canada and the Czech Republic on Monday night.
The two teams traded goals in flurries over the final two periods, combining for seven in total, but it would be Canada that ultimately gained the edge, skating away from the frenetic contest with a 5-3 win.
Julien Gauthier had two goals in the third period, but it was Thomas Chabot who stole the show, controlling the puck with exceptional poise when the game was at it’s most hectic and picking up a goal and an assist.
Canada, who has struggled to find consistency this tournament, will now face the Swedes what will surely be a white-knuckle contest on Wednesday.
Finland 2, Latvia 1 (Relegation)
Earlier in the day, Finland took the first game in this year’s relegation round, a narrow 2-1 win over Latvia. 2017 draft-eligible forward Kristian Vesalainen scored the winner late in the final frame.
The winner of the best-of-three series stays up in the main group for next year’s World Juniors, while the loser gets demoted to the next level below, known as Division I.
It will be a quiet day on Tuesday, with just the second game of the relegation round taking place. Wednesday, however, will be huge, with both of the semifinal games being played. Here’s the schedule for that day:
- United States versus Russia at 2:00 PM
- Sweden versus Canada at 6:30 PM