Group Play Wraps Up at WJC

Group play at the 2018 World Junior Championship has come to a close with some of the quarterfinal matchups becoming clearer. One thing that is known is that Canada will play Switzerland in the quarterfinals, which take place on Tuesday, due to Canada’s finish in first place in Group A. Switzerland finished fourth in Group B. The quarerfinals are a crossover round between the groups so the first place finisher in Group A plays the fourth place finisher in Group B and so on. The teams that finished fifth get moved to a best-of-three relegation round to see who will move to the lower level and who will still qualify for next year’s World Junior Championship.

In the earliest game with Devils prospects participating, the Americans took on Finland, winning 5-4. The USA jumped out to an early 3-0 lead with Joey Anderson potting a power play goal at the 6:56 mark of the second period. Brady Tkachuk and Adam Fox had the assists on his goal. The Finns would cut the lead to 3-2, coming back throughout the second until Anderson struck again at 19:26 of the second with another power play goal. Fox and Casy Mittelstadt notched the assists on that goal.

The Finns scored a shorthanded goal 8:25 into the third frame and tied it up just 1:05 later. But the US got a timely goal from Fox with just under two minutes left in the game for the American win. Anderson’s stat line said that he had the two goals for two points, five shots on goal (which tied Fox and, Mittelstadt and Kieffer Bellows for the US game lead) and a plus-1 rating in 21:37 of ice time. That time on ice was second to only Mittelstadt, who logged 21:46.

The defending champs will likely play Russia, Sweden or the Czech Republic in the next round, depending on the outcome of the Russia-Sweden game later in the evening. The USA finishes the group round with 2 wins, and overtime win, no overtime losses and one loss for eight points good for second place in Group A. They had a goal differential of plus-10. Finland finished third in Group A with six points and will play the Russians, the Swedes or the Czechs, again contingent on the later game.

Slovakia and Marian Studenic met Denmark in the last of the group round. Denmark has had a rough go of it in this tournament and, in fact, finished last in Group A. The Danes actually took the lead early in this one, with Jaachim Blichfeld scoring on the power play just 4:46 into the game. But that was it for their scoring as the Slovaks took over and won the game 5-1. Studenic took a slashing penalty in the second period, but Slovakia killed that off. His stat line gave him the two penalty minutes, three shots on goal and a plus-1 rating in 11:49.

Slovakia finishes fourth in Group A with two wins and two losses (all in regulation) for six points. They also had a minus-4 goal differential. Their next opponent again hinges on the winner of Russia-Sweden. The Russians, Czechs and Swedes could all potentially end with nine points and tie breakers would be needed. Denmark, who finished last in Group A will take on Belarus, who finished last in Group B in a best-of-three series to see who will be relegated for next year.

With four Devils prospects and being the game that would set the matchups for the quarterfinals, Russia-Sweden was a must watch. And it was a good one. Tied 2-2 after one and then 3-3 after three, it would take a shootout to determine things after a great three-on-three OT period. Sweden’s streak of 43 straight wins in the preliminary round of the WJC, going back 11 years, was also on the line.

And Sweden would make it 44. Oskar Steen and Linus Lindstrom scored in the shootout to give them the win with Steen’s being the game winner. Devils prospect and Russian captain Yegor Zaitsev was named the player of the game for Russia. On Sweden’s run in the prelims, they have been terrific, but always seem to falter in the medal rounds. We will see what they do this year in the playoff rounds.

Zaitsev ended the night with a minus-1 rating in 19:30 of ice time. Mikhail Maltsev had an assist for a point, two penalty minutes, four shots on goal in 17:25. For Sweden, Jesper Boqvist did not play and Fabian Zetterlund had a shot on goal, was a minus-1 and had 13:32 of ice time.

So now the next round is set with Canada taking on Switzerland, the United States will face Russia, the Czech Republic takes on Finland and Sweden and Slovakia will square off. All of those games are on Tuesday. All will take place at Key Bank Arena except for Sweden-Slovakia, which will take place at Harborcenter.

From there, the winner of Canada-Switzerland will face the winner of Czech Republc-Finland and the Swedes or Slovaks will face either the Americans or Russians in the semifinals, taking place January 4.

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