The IIHF World Championships began on Friday with the group stage/preliminary round in Minsk, Belarus.
The Tampa Bay Lightning sent forwards Tyler Johnson (USA), Richard Panik (Slovakia), defenseman Dmitry Korobov (Belarus), and goaltenders Andrei Vasilevskiy (Russia) and Kristers Gudlevskis (Latvia) to participate in the tournament.
Note: Unlike during the Winter Olympcis, only the Team USA games are aired on television in the United States; therefore, simple box-score updates will be provided for the other contests involving Tampa Bay Lightning players.
USA (6) vs. Belarus (1)
After a tightly contested first period of play, the Americans finally pressed their advantage on the overmatched Belarus squad late in the second period, as the young, quick, Peter Laviolette-coached USA squad victimized a slower and less disciplined Belarus defense that hadn't cracked up to that point.
USA got three goals in three minutes, from Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg Jets), Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames), and Colin McDonald (New York Islanders) to stretch what had been a tenuous 1-0 lead into a commanding 4-0 advantage.
Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson skated 16:26 on 24 shifts for Laviolette as an all-situations forward not unlike his role with the Lightning this year, especially in the second half of the season. He finished the game with a pair of assists, including on the game-opening tally by Brock Nelson, and on a power play tally by Jacob Trouba in the third. He also won over 58% of his faceoffs and generally was good at the hockey.
Defenseman Dmitry Korobov, who struggled this year in his first professional North American season with the Syracuse Crunch, was third on host Belarus in ice time with 20:03 and finished a team-worst minus-2. As he did in the AHL, Korobov had a hard time covering speed and skill both through neutral ice and in the defensive third.
Russia (5) vs. Switzerland (0)
Slovakia (2) vs. Czech Republic (3)
16:56 and 21 shifts for Richard Panik, but he didn't hit the scoresheet as he was held without a shot on goal or a point.
Latvia (3) vs. Finland (2)
Kristers Gudlevskis dressed as the back-up to Edgars Masalskis, as he did in Sochi in February. Masalskis backstopped Ted Nolan's Latvian squad to a 3-2 upset victory over the Finns, stopping 22 of 24 shots along the way.
USA (3) vs. Switzerland (2)
Reto Berra held on early as Team USA attacked in transition with speed through the first half of the first period, but Switzerland surged back and took advantage of the youth and inexperience of the USA lineup in the back half of the opening frame, as the Americans struggled to clear their own end and needed Tim Thomas to be great to keep the game at a scoreless tie.
The second period featured decidedly more back-and-forth play, which eventful (if fruitless) power play opportunities for both sides. Denis Hollenstein opened the scoring for the Swiss on a partial breakaway following a bad neutral zone giveaway by Vincent Trochek.
After a couple of fantastic saves on a Swiss power play by Tim Thomas, Peter Mueller broke in on Reto Berra alone after jumping out of the penalty box and scored 5-hole to tie the game at 1-1.
Switzerland regained a one-goal lead after another misplay by the young American blue line; Jacob Trouba was turnstiled on a simple inside-out move on the right wing, and Damien Brunner wasn't tied up as he buried a centering feed behind Thomas to put the Swiss back ahead near the midway point of the second period.
The teams traded chances heading into the end of the second period, and Team USA was able to draw a penalty in the waning seconds. They'd head into the third still down a goal but with a chance to tie things up right away on the man advantage which had been deadly against Belarus.
In spite of some odd deployment on the power play, including one unit with four right shots and one unit with four left shots, the USA scored a power play goal started by a Tyler Johnson shot pass, scored by Craig Smith after a few odd caroms. That tied the game at 2-2.
Switzerland briefly appeared to take the lead on a breakaway goal after a long stretch pass, but the referees called it down offsides in what was a very close call, and on a second, slowed down look, probably should have been called onsides.
Minutes later, Tyler Johnson scored the go-ahead tally on a long, quick snap shot from behind the left circle through a screen to give USA the lead -- leading to even more controversy, as yet another apparent Switzerland goal was waived off due to a questionable at best offsides call.
Tyler Johnson was the go-to faceoff guy in the final minute with Team USA clinging to a 1-goal lead they probably didn't deserve, and Tim Thomas had to come up with one more brilliant save in the waning seconds to keep Switzerland off the board and steal the victory.
Canada (4) vs. Slovakia (1)
Slovakia scored the opening goal before surrendering four straight to fall 4-1. Richard Panik was minus-2 and helf off the scoresheet again in 17:07 of ice time.