Team USA drops ‘a tough one’ in world hockey championship semifinal, will play Czech Republic

Team USA drops ‘a tough one’ in world hockey championship semifinal, will play Czech Republic

TAMPERE, Finland — For the second straight year, Team USA lost in the semifinal round of the ice hockey world championship.

Dallas Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen had a goal and two assists as host Finland outlasted the Americans 4-3 in front of 11,055 fans Saturday. Montreal Canadiens forward Joel Armia and former New Jersey Devils defenseman Sami Vatanen added a goal and an assist each, as Finland secured a second straight championship appearance against Canada.

“It’s special,” said Finland’s Mikko Lehtonen, a former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman who has 10 points in the tournament. “At the moment, it’s always one game. It’s a final. It doesn’t matter who you play, but in front of the home fans, it’s always special for us.”

Canada, which won the tournament last season, powered past Czech Republic 6-1 in the second semifinal. Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens scored twice for Canada, a squad that is loaded with NHL players whose current teams are not in the postseason.

“We came here to win,” Canada’s Ryan Graves, a defenseman for the Devils, said. “We take pride in our hockey. As Canadians, hockey’s in our blood, so I know everyone back home is rooting for us to get gold. It’s an honor to play for your country and that’s the whole reason we come over here.”

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Ottawa Senators forward Adam Gaudette scored for Team USA, and Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman — a late addition to the roster after Boston was eliminated in Round 1 of the playoffs by the Carolina Hurricanes — made 22 saves in the loss. Last year, the Americans lost to Canada 4-2 in the semifinal round.

“It’s definitely a tough one,” American left wing Sean Farrell, a Canadiens prospect, said. “We battled as hard as we could, but they’re a really good team and they ended up coming out on top. We’ve just gotta refocus and be ready to battle for a bronze [Sunday].”

Team USA will meet Czech Republic in the third-place game Sunday.

For Finland, this will be its third consecutive championship final. The Finns outlasted Canada 3-1 in 2019, and the tournament was canceled in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everybody’s cheering for us,” Finland forward Mikael Granlund, a center for the Nashville Predators, said. “We just try to take all the energy we can from that. It should be fun [Sunday], but we gotta get prepared, enjoy this one for a bit, and get ready for the next one.”

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2022 Stanley Cup playoffs: Why the Stanley Cup Final-bound Colorado Avalanche must be seen to be believed
9:47 AM
Kristen Shilton
ESPN NHL reporter
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After dominating three rounds of their postseason competition, the Colorado Avalanche are headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Avs’ superstars have delivered, as Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar are both making strong cases for the Conn Smythe. But they’ve gotten superb production from depth players as well, including a series-winning goal from Artturi Lehkonen in Game 4 against the Edmonton Oilers. With their second series sweep of the postseason, it’s taken the Avalanche only 14 games to roll through three opponents.

What makes the Avs so exciting to watch — and so difficult for the opposition to defeat? Let’s explore the key factors as Colorado has moved one step closer to the Cup.

Yes, Colorado is that good
Let’s start with the facts: In eliminating Edmonton, the Avalanche became just the sixth team in the last 20 seasons to sweep a conference final series. That places Colorado in elite company — but not necessarily on the fast track to a Stanley Cup win. Only two of those five teams — the 2009 Anaheim Ducks and 2010 Chicago Blackhawks — went on to hoist the Cup. The 2003 Ducks and 2019 Boston Bruins lost in Game 7 of their respective Cup Final. The 2013 Bruins lost in Game 6.

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This Colorado team is its own unique animal. We’ve seen them do it all. The Avalanche swept their first-round series against the Nashville Predators without starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper available for almost half of it. They did the same in a conference finals sweep of the Oilers, relying as seamlessly on Pavel Francouz as they would Kuemper. Goaltending can make or break a playoff run; Colorado rolled along whether Kuemper and Francouz were dominant or decent.

It was the same story offensively. When the Avalanche’s top line wasn’t firing, its second and third units scored timely goals, or Colorado got a key contribution from some unlikely hero (for example, Darren Helm’s goal with 5.6 seconds left in regulation of Game 6 against St. Louis to punch Colorado’s ticket to the conference finals). That’s not luck. That’s a team built to win.

Yes, the Avalanche have impressive, star-quality players. They just aren’t the only reason Colorado is where it is. And that’s what makes the Avalanche so dangerous, the many layers of excellence making them so hard to describe — or defend. Look at the physical effort put in by Andre Burakovsky — already injured once this series — early in Game 4 to get the puck out of Colorado’s end. There’s such a clear desire in Colorado to reach its goal.

As Nathan MacKinnon so eloquently put it after Colorado’s 4-2 Game 3 win over the Oilers, the Avalanche are as happy to play “boring and gross” hockey that’s defense-heavy as they are pumping in eight goals.

The Avalanche can adapt to any situation
One of the most impressive things about Colorado is how they pivot. When one area of the team falters, another area comes through.

Consider Colorado’s power-play struggles early in the series against Edmonton. The Avalanche owned the NHL’s seventh-best power play in the regular season (24%) but through the first three games, Colorado was 2-for-14 (14.3%) on the power play, the lowest output by any team remaining in the postseason field. No matter. The Avalanche just dominated at 5-on-5 instead and made that the real advantage, pumping in 14 even-strength goals and averaging over five goals per game in the series. And their power play came alive in Game 4, scoring on both opportunities.

It’s just another example of how the Avalanche haven’t let any roadblock slow their progress. If a problem arises, Colorado has a solution. They don’t get bogged down in overthinking or overplaying or getting away from the fundamental structure of what makes them a good team. It speaks to the trust Colorado coach Jared Bednar clearly has in his group — and the confidence his players have in one another — that the Avalanche really don’t show any sign of panic no matter how well or poorly a game goes. Cool heads consistently prevail.

The Avs don’t run too hot or too cold. Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images
Leaning into a long layoff
The Tampa Bay Lightning had more than a week off between their second-round sweep of the Florida Panthers and the start of the Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers.

There was rust. The Lightning lost Game 1, 6-2. Then they lost Game 2, 3-2. The Rangers came in hot off a Game 7 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes and had all the momentum on their side. Will those early losses ultimately decide Tampa Bay’s fate?

More importantly for Colorado, are the Avs headed for similarly troubled waters?

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There could be several days of practice ahead for Colorado before it plays another competitive game. It’s not an ideal scenario, but it’s one in which the Avalanche already have experience this postseason.

Colorado jettisoned Nashville in Game 4 on May 9. It didn’t open the second-round series against St. Louis for eight days, and still took Game 1, 3-2 in overtime. The Avalanche were likely feeling the effects of a layoff, but — as referenced above — Colorado doesn’t get bogged down by adversity.

There also can be positives to the waiting game. Players have a chance to recover and recuperate physically. The longer Tampa and New York rage on, the closer Nazem Kadri (out with a broken thumb) gets to potentially appearing in the Cup Final. The Avalanche don’t need hard practices or workouts at this stage. They’ve proved their mettle already. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be mental, and staying sharp ahead of what will be the most nerve-wracking, career-defining moment for a large swath of the Colorado roster.

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