Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ryan Strome scored first period goals and Malcolm Subban was stellar in net with 36 saves as Canada edged the United States 2-1 at the World Junior Hockey Championship.
You can watch an encore presentation of the game at 8pm et/5pm pt on TSN2.
Subban, who's had his share of critics before the start of the tournament, recorded a .973 save percentage in the victory, compared to just .893 in each of his first two games. And he was busy in the early going, with 24 saves through the first 40 minutes that included a breakaway stop on John Gaudreau in the first period and killing a four-minute double minor in the second.
"Obviously, (our) goaltending has been under the radar for the last couple of years," Team Canada head coach Steve Spott told TSN. "So it was great for his confidence and for our hockey club that when you need him to get the job done, he's able to close the door. He was deserving of being the star tonight."
"Outstanding," added Nugent-Hopkins. "There's not much else you can say there. He was there from the first minute to the last and with goaltending like that, you get that much more comfortable up front."
Nugent-Hopkins, who leads the World Junior Championship in scoring, got on the scoresheet at the 7:13 mark of the opening period beating U.S. netminder John Gibson stick side for his third goal of the tournament.
Strome then gave Canada a two-goal lead with his tournament-leading fourth goal seven minutes later. Going back to last year's World Junior Championship in Calgary, the New York Islanders prospect has scored in four straight games and has a point in eight of his last nine.
But with Strome in the box for a delay of game penalty in the third, the Americans finally solved Subban on a power play goal by Jacob Trouba. "You have to give the Americans a lot of credit," said Spott. "They have a lot of skill and hard-working players on that team. But I think our depth guys really got it done."
The Americans' momentum, however, was rubbed out with four straight penalties - including game misconducts to captain Jake McCabe and forward Ryan Hartman for making contact to the head. But Team Canada was unable to capitalize on the power play, which included a two-man advantage for a full two minutes.
"Our top six forwards maybe didn't give us the presence we needed," said Spott. "When you have the power play opportunities we had, you've got to put a team down when you can. So ultimately, we have to keep our game a bit more simple on the point on the power play and getting more pucks to the net."
With 1:37 left in the game and Nugent-Hopkins gone for boarding, head coach Phil Housley pulled Gibson for an extra attacker and put the pressure on with a 6-on-4 power play. But Subban and the penalty killers held their ground, hanging on for their third win of the tournament. "The guys came up big for the whole team and they really saved my butt there," Nugent-Hopkins told TSN.
With forward J.C. Lipon suspended for the game and 11 forwards in the lineup, Canadian head coach Steve Spott put Nathan MacKinnon on right wing with Strome and Jonathan Drouin on the second line. Brett Ritchie moved into a fourth line winger pair with Anthony Camara and Canada's three centres rotated with them. Ty Rattie was on right wing on the shutdown line with Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault.
"It was good," MacKinnon said regarding his added ice time. "Playing with 'Drou' and Strome was fun early on and I thought we played pretty good. With a little bit more time, we'll be more comfortable for sure."
Canada's forward lines will be back at full strength for their final round robin game against Russia, with Lipon and forward Boone Jenner back on the lineup card. Jenner sat out the first three games of the tournament serving a IIHF suspension for his check on Swedish defenceman Jesper Pettersson in the team's final exhibition contest.
"For us, it gives us that shot of adrenaline," said Spott. "Having Boone and J.C. back gives us that energy we'll need and we'll need it to step up for Russia."
The match-up went a long way to determining the final standings as Canada's win sets up a winner-take-all showdown with the host Russians on New Year's Eve (8:30am et/5:30am pt on TSN and TSN.ca). Canada is 3-0 with nine points atop Group B, while Russia is just one point behind with two regulation wins and an overtime victory. The top team in the group will get a bye into the semifinals.
Canada has now won eight of the last nine meetings against the U.S. at the World Juniors, with four of the last five games between the teams decided by one goal.