Champions Crowned at 2019 World Juniors

The medal round got under way at Rogers Arena in Vancouver at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship with Russia and Switzerland facing off for bronze while the USA and Finland met for gold.

The Swiss were coming into this afternoon’s game with the Russians looking to win bronze (or medal at all) for the first time since 1998. It has been an unpredictable and wide open tournament so far no doubt, but if you had Switzerland in the medal round prior to the tourney instead of, say, Canada or Sweden, most would have called you crazy.

Still, the Cinderella story came to an end today as Russia won the game 5-2 to win the bronze medal. Kirill Slepets had a hat trick and Nikita Shashkov and Klim Kostin also scored to give them the victory.

Kostin, the Russian captain, did not endear himself to the Vancouver crowd as he pantomimed putting his fingers in his ears after he scored. This was in reference to him getting on the crowd’s bad side in yesterday’s game versus the US when he yelled expletives at the crowd after Russia’s loss. He did apologize for his behavior in that game, but the jury is still out on whether or not it was really sincere.

Switzerland did not get their first shot on goal until about midway through the first period, after Slepets had scored his first of the game at 4:25. In the second period, Valentin Nussbaumer scored for the Swiss to cut the Russian lead to 2-1. Kostin then scored to make it 3-1 before Yannick Bruschweiler scored for the Swiss to make it 3-2. This goal was reviewed for a high stick, but was ruled to be a good goal. That goal came after a remarkable save by Russian goalie Pyotr Kochetkov and a hit post.

Of note was that the Russians were actually offside on their first goal, but Switzerland chose not to challenge it.

The Swiss continued to hang in there, really coming on in the second, but just ran out of gas by the time Slepets scored 6:33 into the third off the rush to make it 4-2. Russia took a few penalties late in the game, putting them down a man when Switzerland pulled goaltender Luca Hollenstein (Devils prospect Akira Schmid did not play) to make it a 6-on-4 man advantage. But Slepets scored a shorthanded goal into the empty net to cap off the Russian victory.

Kochetkov made 34 saves on 36 Swiss shots as Switzerland really settled in offensively after a slow start. Hollenstein made 19 saves on 24 Russian shots.

So Russia finishes with the bronze and Switzerland finishes just out of a medal in fourth place. Russia remains undefeated in bronze medal games at the WJC, now improving to 8-0.

Next up, the main event: USA versus Finland for the gold. This game would feature the two kids who are projected to go one and two in the 2019 NHL Draft (coincidentally to also be held in Vancouver) in Jack Hughes (USA) and Kaapo Kakko (Finland). It also featured Devils prospect Aarne Talvitie of Finland. This game was the first time Finland and the US had ever met each other for gold at the WJC.

The US has won three gold medals in this tournament since 2013, but tonight was Finland’s night. The Finns won 3-2 on a late goal from Kakko, who scored off of a goal mouth scramble.

The US actually scored on the power play early in the game, but the goal was immediately waved off and reviewed. Upon the review, the call on the ice stood as even though Oliver Wahlstrom had scored, Alexander Chmelevski was in the crease and was deemed to have interfered with Finnish goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.

With that, the game remained scoreless until the 11:31 mark of the second period when Jesse Ylonen put the Finns up on top off of a one-timer shot off a faceoff on the power play. In the third, Otto Latvala would extend the Finnish lead to 2-0 on a point shot through traffic. The US was in a tough way just six minutes into the third frame.

But the American comeback was on. Just 1:01 after the Latvala goal, Chmelevski scored to cut the Finnish lead in half at 2-1. He scored on a shot from an odd angle that beat Luukkonen. And then, 1:48 after that, Josh Norris scored to tie the game at two, just sniping one from the top of the far faceoff circle.

The game seemed headed for overtime until Kakko scored his goal to put the Finns up 3-2. American goalie Cayden Primeau was pulled with a little over a minute remaining in regulation, but it was not enough and Finland won the gold medal at the 2019 World Junior Championship.

Aarne Talvitie was driven into the boards hard in the first period and was shaken up. He returned but played the rest of the game injured. The Finnish captain and Devils prospect finished the game with 10:54 of ice time and an even plus/minus. He really impressed this tournament and opened some eyes. He will now return to Penn State to continue his NCAA career.

As for the goaltenders, Luukkonen stopped 26 of 28 shots faced while Primeau made 28 saves on 31 Finnish shots.

And that is it. Finland wins gold, USA silver and Russia the bronze. Overall, it was a great tournament and we cannot wait to see what goes down next year in the Czech Republic. We will be right back here tomorrow for coverage of the Devils-Golden Knights game from Las Vegas. If you have any comments, please do not hesitate to leave them in the comment section below.

Devils Get First Shootout Win of Season, Down Arizona 3-2

The Devils said that they wanted to try to take at least six of a possible eight points on this road trip. They dropped two in Dallas and were looking to rectify that in Arizona. And they would, winning 3-2 in a shootout to knock off the Coyotes in Glendale.

It was the battle of the penalty kills, as the Coyotes are the number one ranked PK in the NHL and the Devils number two. And sure enough, neither team was able to gain much traction on the power play. The Devils went 0-for-3 with a single shot (they did have three shorthanded shots, however). The Devils kept Arizona 0-for-5 on the PP with six shots on goal. The Coyotes had a 5-on-3 to kill off early in the game and then a four minute high sticking double minor on Brian Boyle late in the game so that skewed things a little bit.

The Devils went with their same lineup as the last few games with the lone exception of Blake Pietila slotting in up front. John Quenneville (who was just named an AHL All-Star along with Mackenzie Blackwood) slotted out at forward. Defensemen Mirco Mueller and Egor Yakovlev were the other healthy scratches.

In goal, the Devils announced that Blackwood would get the nod tonight, making his fifth straight start and Keith Kinkaid would start on Sunday in Vegas. A monkey wrench in those plans, however, saw Blackwood go down with a lower body injury early in the game. He ended up playing 15:59, stopping all eight shots he saw. Kinkaid then came on in relief and stopped 15 of the 17 shots fired at him. For the Yotes, Darcy Kuemper turned aside 33 of the 35 Devils shots he saw.

Some milestones for the night saw Jesper Bratt playing in his 100th NHL game, Drew Stafford in his 800th NHL game and it was also Nico Hischier’s 20th birthday. Stafford and Hischier would play crucial roles in this game.

Hischier’s would be scoring the opening goal of the game and it was a weird one. Kyle Palmieri stripped the Arizona skater of the puck in the neutral zone and went in on a 2-on-1 with Hischier. Nico took the puck and fired on net, only for Arizona’s Clayton Keller to crash into the net, dislodging it from its moorings just as the puck was crossing the goal line. The play was reviewed by Toronto with the officials getting together to watch on their tablet. Amazingly a goal was awarded to the Devils as the puck “would have entered the net had it not been deliberately knocked off its moorings.” By the rule, the referee can award a goal at his discretion and it was. The goal came at 1:05 into the game and Palmieri had the lone assist. The birthday boy had scored and the Devils were ahead.

But then came the injury to Blackwood and a relatively cold Kinkaid entered the game. At 16:44 of the first, Pavel Zacha made a costly turnover into the slot, giving the puck up to Conor Garland who scored unassisted, beating Kinkaid to make it 1-1.

The Devils nearly took another lead early in the second period when Pietila seemingly had scored. But upon review, the puck crossed the line after the referee had blown his whistle and play was dead. One break had gone the Devils’ way, but this one would not. It was still 1-1.

The Coyotes would take the lead at the 9:05 mark of the second when Christian Fischer skated in on a 2-on-1 and elected to shoot. He beat Kinkaid between the arm and the body as it trickled through for a 2-1 lead for Arizona. The goal was unassisted. The Devils were now behind the eight-ball if they wanted to salvage something from this game.

Enter Blake Coleman. A good Devils forecheck led to Travis Zajac being able to make a nifty backhand pass to Coleman who stuffed the puck five hole on Kuemper to tie it up at two. Miles Wood had the other assist on the goal.

And from there, the two teams settled in. New Jersey had a Hischier shorthanded breakaway on the four minute double minor PK late in the third and a Zacha shorthanded chance on a Steven Santini delay of game penalty a few minutes later.

This would lead to overtime and two critical plays one early for the Devils and one late for the Coyotes. The early one was Jesper Bratt clearing a sure Arizona goal as he swept it from the goal line after it got by Kinkaid. Kuemper then made three remarkable saves for the Coyotes, including two in succession on Zajac later on in the OT period. The buzzer went on OT and we were on to a shootout.

New Jersey had yet to win a shootout this season, but that was about to change. Arizona went first and Alex Galchenyuk missed the net. Kyle Palmieri scored on his chance to finish out the first round. Kinkaid then made a crucial save on Nick Cousins and Drew Stafford got the game winner in the second round to end it for the Devils.

They had fought back and gotten the two points in the desert. The Devils out shot the Coyotes 35 to 25 and won 54-percent of the game’s draws. The Yotes out hit the Devils 39 to 27, but the Devils had more blocked shots at 17-11 and less giveaways at 12 to Arizona’s 13.

Individually, Andy Greene led in minutes with 24:17 (including 7:17 on the penalty kill) and Zajac led the forwards with 20:40 (2:51 on the power play and 3:15 shorthanded). Coleman led in shots on goal with a career high eight while fellow Texan Stefan Noesen led the hit parade with four. Blocked shots were led by Sami Vatanen with four and Zajac, Coleman and Palmieri each had a takeaway to lead in that category.

Next up, the Devils travel to Vegas to take on the Golden Knights while remaining in the desert. That game is on Sunday at 4 PM eastern and we, of course, will have coverage for you right here.