Breakdown: USA vs. Sweden for World Junior gold
No one questioned the work ethic or speed of the Americans, but scoring touch looked like it might be their undoing after they managed just two goals in round-robin losses to Canada and Russia. Credit then to coach Phil Housley as his decision to bump Jimmy Vesey (Predators) to the top line alongside Rangers first-rounder J.T. Miller and Johnny Gaudreau (Flames) cured all ills. Miller did yeoman's work shutting down Canada's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on Thursday (
No doubt Sweden has a solid group, but it can't match up to an American corps that's been sensational at both ends of the ice. Ten of Team USA's 31 goals have come from blueliners, including three from captain Jake McCabe (Sabres) and four from Jacob Trouba. The Winnipeg Jets' first-rounder (2011) has emerged as the tournament's top defenseman, shutting down opposing top lines and keying the American offense with his skating and puck movement. Seth Jones has lived up to his status as the co-favorite to go first overall in the next NHL draft with a heady performance that's improved as the tournament has progressed. Look for Pat Sieloff (Flames) to make an early impression with his physical play.
There's not much to choose from between John Gibson and Niklas Lundstrom. Gibson, Anaheim's second pick in 2012, didn't have to be brilliant in Team USA's previous wins over the Czechs and Canada, but he's made every save he's needed to make. When the Canadians finally showed up during a third-period power play on Thursday, he made a pair of five-bell stops on Nugent-Hopkins and Dougie Hamilton to slam the door shut. The confidence the Americans play with up front is a direct result of Gibson's reliability on the back end. Lundstrom (Blues) split duties with Joel Lassinantti in the round robin, but was the go-to guy in the semis against the Russians. He could have slept through the first period of that 3-2 shootout win, but when the Russians came hard in the second half, he was nails. Like Gibson, Lundstrom takes up a lot of net, has incredible patience and is very cool under pressure. Gibson has a slight physical edge, but Lundstrom showed tremendous resilience under fire, especially in OT and the shootout of the semis. Tough to pick one over the other here.
The Swedes have been slightly more efficient on the power play, scoring 11 goals on 30 chances, while the US is 12 for 39. The Americans show a real edge on the penalty kill where they've allowed just two goals for a 92 percent kill rate. The Swedes have struggled when down a man, giving up a goal per game (18 of 23). They play a strong positional game, but showed against Russia that they're vulnerable to high-end speed. If they allow the Americans to dictate the pace, they could dig their own grave with too many penalties.
The pick for gold