It’s Finland vs USA and Canada vs Czechia in the World Championship semi-finals after a day of upsets and fightbacks at the start of the knock-out stage. Canada and Finland both came back from behind to overcome Sweden and Slovakia respectively.

Czechia and the USA went to Helsinki and came back with victories against Group A’s top two teams, Switzerland and Germany.

Sweden 3 Canada 4 OT (2-0, 1-0, 0-3, 0-1)

Canada pulled off a huge fightback to wipe out a 0-3 deficit and beat Sweden in overtime. The result puts the Canadians in the semi finals for the seventh successive tournament. Three of the previous six have ended in gold.

But that seemed like a remote prospect as the Tre Kronor blazed to a fast start here. Carl Klingberg opened the scoring in the second minute and William Nylander continued his scoring streak in Tampere to make it 2-0 midway through the opening frame. Even though the Canadians dominated the second stanza, firing 19 shots at Linus Ullmark in the Swedish net, there was no way through and instead Max Friberg increased the lead.

Then came a fightback that will live long in the memory. Ryan Graves reduced the deficit early in the third, but that was looking like little more than a consolation effort as the game went into the final two minutes with Sweden leading 3-1. Crucially, though, Canada got on the power play and pulled goalie Chris Driedger. The 6-on-4 advantage paid off; Pierre-Luc Dubois made it a one-goal game with 1:53 left to play.

Yet that was only the start of the drama. Thirty seconds later, the game was tied. Matt Barzal got the goal that sent us into overtime and suddenly Sweden’s poise and confidence was shattered.

The extras were brief. Nylander took a tripping call early on, and Canada swiftly converted the power play. Drake Batherson grabbed the winning goal to cap a remarkable turnaround. The Canadians have not always looked at their best in Finland so far, but after today’s result there’s far greater reason to believe that the defending champion can repeat its success in Riga.

Germany 1 Czechia 4 (0-2, 0-1, 1-1)

Germany’s hopes of continuing its steady improvement over recent years took a hit after a 4-1 loss to Czechia in the quarter-final here. The Germans were hoping to at least match last year’s fourth-place finish but despite finishing second in Group A they were unable to make their seeding count in the knock-out stage.

The Czechs, meanwhile, put themselves in with a chance of ending a World Championship medal drought that dates back to 2012. Eight tournaments without reward represents the longest run in the country’s history without taking hardware from an IIHF event.

Captain Roman Cervenka continues to play a huge role in the team’s progress. The veteran forward went back to the front in the World Championship scoring race after grabbing a goal and two assists today. He was a key component of a first line that took this game away from Germany.

It started early, Cervenka and David Krejci combining to set up David Pastrnak for the opening goal in the third minute. While Cervenka leads the team in scoring, Pastrnak’s contribution since joining the team during the group stage cannot be understated. The Boston forward galvanized a roster that was in lukewarm form, banishing any prospect of missing the knock-out rounds. Now he has the potential to fire his team to a medal.

The Germans found their hard work from the group stage evaporating, and Cervenka doubled the lead midway through the opening frame. There was worse to come: the first line combined once again midway through the second as Krejci got on the scoresheet and put the game out of reach. Moritz Sieder’s point shot skittered through traffic to get the Germans on the board late on, but the final word went to Jiri Smejkal with an empty-netter to seal the Czech advance.

Switzerland 0 USA 3 (0-2, 0-0, 0-1)

The afternoon games both went to the lower-ranked team from the group stage, and in the evening Team USA continued that trend when it handed Switzerland a first and final defeat in this tournament.

Few fancied the Americans to spring a surprise against a Swiss team that moved convincingly through the preliminaries. With just five recognized D-men available, the odds seemed stacked against the USA slowing the progress of Denis Malgin, top scorer from the group action.

However, a resolute defensive display limited the Swiss to just four shots on target in the opening frame. At the other end, Ben Meyers scored on the power play and Adam Gaudette doubled the lead to put the USA in control.

The second period saw more from Switzerland, but David Swayman – a late arrival in the American ranks after Boston came out of the playoffs – was in fine form to repel the offensive. He finished with 19 saves to record a shut-out and send the USA into a semi-final match-up against Finland. Meyers added a third goal in the closing minutes to seal the deal.

Finland 4 Slovakia 2 (1-2, 1-0, 2-0)

As for Finland, it was all about Marko Anttila. The former Jokerit man had two goals and an assist to lead his team’s recovery from 0-2 down to beat Slovakia.

The Slovaks, icing the youngest roster in the tournament, got off to a great start. Adam Sykora, their youngest player, opened the scoring in the eighth minute when he deftly redirected an airborne puck beyond Juho Olkinuora, ending his hopes of a record-breaking shut-out streak. Then Pavol Regenda made it 2-0, sounding alarm bells among the 11,341 fans in Tampere’s Nokia Arena.

But Anttila has previous in these big games. Rarely a prolific player, he has a happy knack of conjuring big goals. Today he struck either side of the intermission, redirectly a Niklas Friman effort past Adam Huska late in the first to ease home nerves, then capitalizing on a defensive error to tie things up early in the second.

From then on, despite some brave Slovak resistance, it was hard to see any other outcome. Sakari Manninen got the go-ahead goal early in the third and the Finns restricted Slovakia to just two shots on goal in the final frame. A last-second rush saw Anttila unselfishly tee up Saku Maenalanen for an empty-net goal to seal Finland’s progress towards the semi-finals. Strikingly, the Finns were the only team to win a quarter final with the benefit of the higher seeding.

Main photo: © Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Sport / 

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