TORONTO — If there’s one positive to come out of Canada’s preliminary round finale at the world junior hockey championship, it’s that the team picked the right game to lose.
The United States scored two quick power-play goals for a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in a 3-1 victory on Saturday afternoon at Air Canada Centre.
The Americans (4-0-0) took first place in Group B with the win while Canada (3-1-0) settled for the second seed. The victory gave the U.S. a slightly easier path going forward but the New Year’s Eve showdown was essentially a warmup game for the playoff round.
For the Canadians, losing a non-elimination game may give them the jolt they need to get back to the podium at this tournament.
"I actually think it’s a good thing," said Canadian forward Matt Barzal. "I’d rather have it happen now than the quarters or semis. It’s nice to see because we know that’s what it’s going to take to win. We know how we’ve got to come out.
"We’ve got to play desperate. Every shift counts."
Canada will face the Czech Republic in quarter-final action on Monday in Montreal while the U.S. takes on Switzerland in Toronto. Denmark plays Russia and Sweden faces Slovakia in the other quarters.
The Americans came out flying and had the Canadians on their heels throughout most of the first period.
Canada netminder Connor Ingram drew the starting assignment ahead of Carter Hart, but looked shaky in the early going as the Americans scored on two of their first three shots.
Colin White opened the scoring at 4:31 by one-timing a pass from Jordan Greenway for a power-play goal.
The Americans added another goal with the man advantage at 6:04. Greenway gathered the puck down low and breezed through the top of the crease area to tuck the puck past Ingram.
Canada had a 5-on-3 advantage midway through the first period but couldn’t generate a decent scoring chance. The Americans outshot Canada 6-4 in the frame.
U.S. captain Luke Kunin was tossed from the game early in the second period. He flattened defenceman Philippe Myers behind the net and was given a five-minute interference major and game misconduct.
Myers was slow to get up and did not return. Canadian coach Dominique Ducharme said Myers suffered a concussion and will not play in Monday’s quarter-final in Montreal.
Barzal and Canadian captain Dylan Strome showed flashes of their offensive prowess on the ensuing power play but found it tough to penetrate the stifling American defence.
A tripping penalty by defenceman Charlie McAvoy gave Canada another 5-on-3 advantage. This time the host team applied solid pressure and Thomas Chabot crept in from the point to beat goalie Joseph Woll at 8:12.
The goal gave the Canadian team some zip and sparked the crowd. However, Jeremy Bracco restored the Americans’ two-goal cushion when he buried a loose puck at 13:08.
"We’re feeling really good about ourselves but nothing has been accomplished yet," Bracco said.
U.S. forward Joey Anderson was sent in on a breakaway in the final minute of the period but Ingram stoned him with a glove save. Canadian defenceman Jake Bean took a needless cross-checking penalty seconds later to snuff out any momentum.
Overall, the Americans matched the Canadians’ speed and seemed to want the puck more than their opponents. The U.S. played a more physical game, kept the mistakes to a minimum and appeared more disciplined.
Ducharme admitted his team’s execution was a little off.
"It’s one game," he said. "We learned from that and we’re growing as a group. Now we’re starting a new tournament, it’s starting in Montreal for us and we’ll be ready for that."
With four minutes left in the third period, Canada forward Pierre-Luc Dubois slid the puck into the American net well after the whistle sounded. He was given an unsportsmanlike penalty, essentially ending Canada’s chances for a comeback.
"We have to regroup and we have to be better," Strome said. "I think one game doesn’t define a team. I think we know that and we’ve just got to be a little better next game."
Canada outshot the United States 26-20. It was the first time the Americans have won their group since 2011.
"We’re excited with how we’re playing," said head coach Bob Motzko. "But we have to park it now and move forward."
The Canadians will play the third-seeded team from Group A on Monday at Bell Centre. The opponent will be determined later Saturday.
Montreal will also host Wednesday’s semifinals and the medal games on Thursday.
Canada, which last won world junior gold in 2015, finished sixth at the 2016 tournament in Helsinki.