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Hart backstops Canada to semifinal victory, sets up rematch with USA for WJC gold

Aaron Bell/CHL Images

 

It wasn’t easy and it didn’t come without adversity, but Canada found a way to get the job done, defeating Sweden 5-2 Wednesday night to advance to the gold medal game of the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship in Montreal.

Everett Silvertips’ goaltender Carter Hart made 26 saves and was named Player of the Game for Canada, as he backstopped his country to a semifinal victory.

Falling behind twice in the early stages of the first period, it looked as though Canada might be in tough against Sweden. Anthony Cirelli managed to tie the game 2-2 with 1:11 to go in the first period as Canada clawed even after 20 minutes of play.

The second period of play saw furious pace at both ends of the rink, with both goaltenders tasked to come up big.

In the Swedish crease, Felix Sandstrom robbed Tyson Jost on two consecutive point-blank opportunities just outside the blue paint. At the other end, Hart made a glove save, only to have the puck pop up and come down behind him. Diving in was Dante Fabbro, who slowed the puck on the line, giving Hart enough time to reach back and prevent it from crossing the line, protecting a 3-2 lead in the process.

That 3-2 advantage was provided 12:02 into the second period, as Julien Gauthier managed to poke a loose puck home at the side of the Sweden cage.

The energetic play from both clubs continued in the third period and it was captain Dylan Strome securing some insurance for Canada. After winning an offensive-zone face-off, Strome dropped back high in the zone before taking a pass and snapping it quickly through a Mathew Barzal screen, beating Sandstrom for a 4-2 Canada lead 7:38 in.

With the clock winding down, Carl Grundstrom wheeled into Canadian territory down the left wing before wiring a hot shot off the top of Hart’s mask as the reigning CHL Goaltender of the Year used everything in his possession to keep the puck out of the net.

After Grundstrom’s opportunity, Kelowna Rockets’ forward Dillon Dube lugged the puck the length of the ice, before dishing to defenceman Thomas Chabot who fired a hot shot off the post behind Sandstrom – another glorious opportunity for Canada that stayed out of the net.

With 1:58 to go in regulation, Gauthier hit an empty Swedish net from just outside the blueline, striking a 5-2 lead onto the scoreboard and all but punching the Canadian ticket to the gold medal game.

Kale Clague (Brandon Wheat Kings), Noah Juulsen (Everett Silvertips)  and Jake Bean (Calgary Hitmen) each recorded an assist in the win.

Joel Eriksson Ek and Grundstrom beat Connor Ingram early in the first period to chase the Canadian starter, while Mitchell Stephens provided the response for Canada.

Barzal (Seattle Thunderbirds), Cirelli and Chabot were named the Top Players of the Tournament for Canada.

Canada will face the United States on Thursday (6 p.m. Mountain) for World Junior supremacy. The Americans advanced to the gold medal game after defeating Russia by a 4-3 tally in a semifinal that required a shootout to find a decision. The U.S. defeated Canada by a 3-1 margin in the final game of the preliminary round on New Year’s Eve in Toronto.

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