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United States and Canada resume their rivalry at IIHF world hockey championship

May 20, 2016 - 2:15 PM

MOSCOW - The roads to the semifinal have been very different for Canada and the United States at the world hockey championship.

The Canadians bulldozed their way through most of the preliminary round, posting a 6-0-0-1 record to finish second in Group B. The Americans, meanwhile, squeaked into the quarter-final with a fourth-place finish thanks to a 3-0-1-3 record.

The longtime rivals will square off Saturday at the Ice Palace with a berth in Sunday's gold-medal game on the line.

Canada handily defeated the Americans 5-1 on the first night of the tournament. Defenceman Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs said the Canadians won't be taking the United States lightly.

"We kind of talked to each other after that (first) game against them," Reilly said. "We told ourselves that if we played (them) later on in the tournament, they're going to be a different team because they're young, a lot of college kids, but they're talented.

"That's a challenge coming up. We have to be ready to play hard."

Canada outscored its opponents by a tournament-best differential of 34-4 through the first six games before closing the preliminary round with a 5-0 loss to Finland. Canada currently leads the tournament in goals (40), shooting percentage (15.09 per cent) and penalty-killing (95.83 per cent), while Cam Talbot leads all goalies with three shutouts in six starts.

The balanced scoring attack has vaulted Derick Brassard, Mark Stone, Taylor Hall and Mark Scheifele into the top 10 in tournament scoring. Ten of Canada's 21 skaters have scored two goals or more over the first eight games.

The Americans' preliminary round victories came against the three lowest-ranked teams in their group: Hungary, France and Belarus. But the U.S. played well in a 2-1 quarter-final shootout victory over the Czech Republic on Thursday.

The Americans are led offensively by a five-man unit: Auston Matthews, Dylan Larkin and Nick Foligno up front with Connor Murphy and Chris Wideman on the blue line.

Head coach Bill Peters, who served as an assistant to Todd McLellan during Canada's gold-medal run last year, saw the U.S. team's potential from Day 1.

"It reminds me of a game last year against Sweden," Peters said on May 6 after Canada beat the Americans. "We played (Sweden) in the round robin and thought they were a team we'd see again. This year, this is a team we could also easily see again."

The Americans did not look like a team with medal potential at the time. But the squad tightened up defensively in the quarter-final and Matthews — the potential No. 1 pick in this year's draft — delivered his best game of the tournament with a goal and the shootout winner.

Goaltender Keith Kinkaid was named the top American player of the game after stopping 31 shots. The Canadians looked strong in their quarter-final, posting an impressive 6-0 win over Sweden.

Finland will meet host Russia in the early semifinal. The unbeaten Finns are two wins away from becoming the first country to win the world hockey championship, world juniors, and under-18 world title in the same year.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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