Jack Eichel and his U.S. teammates lost the first game of the world championships. After celebrating their sixth straight victory Tuesday, they’re now a favorite to win gold.
Eichel helped set up the game-winning goal in a 5-3 victory over Russia, vaulting the United States past the Russians to claim first place in Group A. The Americans finished the preliminary round with a 6-1 record after dropping the opening game to host Germany.
"Every game is tough, but we proved to ourselves in a week's time that we can come together and be a competitive hockey team," U.S. forward Anders Lee told IIHF.com. "When all 23 guys are going, we are a really good team."
The Russians gave the Americans too much help in their showdown. Russia took eight penalties, and the U.S. power play struck twice, including the tiebreaking goal with 7:03 to play.
Eichel controlled the puck along the boards before sending a cross-ice pass to Johnny Gaudreau. The Calgary forward quickly fed Lee in front for a redirect to make it 4-3.
Jack Eichel's power-play assist helps give USA a 4-3 lead over Russia late in third. pic.twitter.com/CgHhBI11rZ
— John Vogl (@BuffNewsVogl) May 16, 2017
Brock Nelson scored an empty-net goal with 22 seconds left to seal the first-place finish.
Eichel had one assist in 19:23 of ice time. The Sabres center had five assists in the opening round. He failed to find the net despite a team-high 30 shots in the seven games.
Defenseman Viktor Antipin, who is expected to sign with the Sabres following the tournament, was named Russia’s player of the game. He skated 17:28, including significant time with the overworked penalty kill. Antipin has one assist in the tournament.
The Americans will play Finland in the quarterfinals Thursday (10:15 a.m., NBCSN). The Finns (4-3) finished fourth in Group B.
Ryan O’Reilly and Canada finished first in Group B with a 6-0-1 record. Their quarterfinal foe will be Germany, which claimed fourth place in Group A with a 4-3 shootout victory over Zemgus Girgensons and Latvia.
O’Reilly skated just 12:36 and had three shots in Canada’s 5-2 victory over Finland. He had four goals and one assist in the preliminary round.
Girgensons’ tournament is over after a comeback by the Germans. Former Sabres forward Felix Schutz scored with just 33 seconds left to tie the game, 3-3. Germany scored the only goal of the shootout to eliminate the Latvians.
"In those last moments, we were just focusing on trying everything to tie the game,” German defenseman Christian Ehrhoff told IIHF.com. “There was a belief in the group. There wasn't really any doubt. We felt it was all in our hands."
Girgensons had four shots in 17:08 against the hosts. The Sabres forward finished with one goal and one assist in seven games.
The other quarterfinals will feature Russia versus Czech Republic, and Switzerland versus Sweden.
“It was a good win,” U.S. coach Jeff Blashill said after beating the Russians, “but in the end we didn’t come here to win a preliminary game. I think the big games are ahead of all of us.”