After eight years, the IIHF World Championships return to Slovakia; and they returned in style. The opening day offered matches full of intensity, drama, and upsets.
Russia 5-2 Norway
Russia are one of the biggest favorites coming into the 2019 IIHF World Championships, sporting the arguably strongest roster filled with NHL superstars and supplemented with the best KHL can offer, more used to the wide ice.
Norway, the fifth seed of Group B, are hoping to upset one of the main four favorites of their group and steal a quarterfinal spot, led by their veteran captain Jonas Holos. Their biggest star Mats Zuccarello is not participating this year.
Head coach Ilya Vorobyov decided to split up the main four Russian stars, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Malkin, Nikita Kucherov, and Ilya Kovalchuk, each getting their own line, that got approximately the same amount of ice time.
This system seemed to work as Russia came out of the match with a comfortable 5-2 win, leading 5-0 with five minutes to go.
Evgeni Dadonov opened the scoring with a goal just eleven seconds into the powerplay. The winger found himself with the puck surrounded by three Norwegian players, but still managed to beat Henrik Haukeland from close range.
Artem Anisimov added a second after 14 minutes, receiving the puck in Haukeland's crease, keeping it away from the Norwegian goaltender and tucking it behind his left skate.
The Russian powerplay would strike again, even without Ovechkin or Kovalchuk on the ice. Nikita Kucherov's wrist shot from the edge of the left circle beat Haukeland stick side.
Russia would get another powerplay and Dadonov made it three out of three with his second goal, very similar to his first. Only two seconds expired from this powerplay before Haukeland was fishing the puck out of his net for the fourth time in 30 minutes.
Nikita Gusev got a fifth for Russia less than 90 seconds into the final period, his wrist shot slipping into Haukeland's five-hole.
Russia got a bit complacent afterward, seeing as the match was essentially done, but Norway racked up more and more shots, resulting in them grabbing two consolation goals in the final five minutes.
Thomas Valkvae Olsen gave the Norway fans something to cheer about with his one-timer hitting the top left corner of Vasilevskiy's goal.
Less than two minutes later, the captain Jonas Holos would hit the same spot of the net, but with much more force, as his rocket of a slapshot from the blue line cleanly beat Vasilevskiy.
Russia still cruised to an easy opening win, but there are signs of encouragement for Norway as they didn't give up and scored twice on Andrei Vasilevskiy, a 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist.
Canada 1-3 Finland
Canada may not have attracted their biggest stars this year, but they still have a very well-rounded solid team, with strong players like Matt Murray, Jonathan Marchessault, or Thomas Chabot at every position.
Finland are likely to be the dark horses of this competition, as they have only two NHL players in their roster despite having more than enough of Finnish players plying their trade in North America.
Kaapo Kakko got on a breakaway, faked out Matt Murray, and scored the opening goal for Finland. The 18-year-old showed why he is in the conversation to be the No. 1 draft pick of this year's NHL Entry Draft.
Canada would tie it up through a Jonathan Marchessault powerplay goal, assisted by his Vegas Golden Knights teammates Mark Stone and Shea Theodore just 73 seconds later.
Arttu Ilomaki would send Finland ahead with a 2-1 lead after 42 minutes, just 10 seconds into a powerplay. The puck was tossed at Murray who let the rebound spill and after some chaos, Canada paid the price.
Matt Murray would get pulled for an extra skater with two minutes to go, and 34 seconds before the end of the match, Kaapo Kakko scored the empty net goal to seal the upset for Finland.
Czech Republic 5-2 Sweden
The Czech Republic are one of the teams hoping to challenge for the medals with a strong support of NHL talent coming in, such as their captain Jakub Voracek or Ondrej Palat.
Sweden are coming in with one of the strongest rosters in the World Championship, looking to complete the three-peat. They are led by their NHL stars like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Henrik Lundqvist, and Elias Pettersson.
Jakub Vrana got an early goal for the Czech Republic, a slapshot that beat the legendary Henrik Lundqvist stick side within the first two minutes of the match.
Sweden's top line matched up at the beginning of the second period to tie the game up, Patric Hornqvist finishing it off after putting in his own backhand rebound. Hornqvist continued to be a physical nuisance throughout the match and kept getting involved in scrums after the whistle, particularly with Radko Gudas.
Just two and a half minutes later, Oskar Lindblom sent Sweden into a 2-1 lead after his slap shot towards the end of the powerplay beat Patrik Bartosek cleanly.
Before the second period ran out, the Czechs managed to tie it up at 2-2. Dominik Kubalik sent a one-timer set up by Jan Kovar over the glove of a sprawling Lundqvist.
Just 33 seconds after the start of the final period, Lundqvist was beaten again. Chaos ensued in front of the crease, with Michael Frolik being the one who got the puck over the line.
The game became way more physical after this point, Sweden always digging for rebounds out of Bartosak, and Czechs punishing them physically.
With five minutes to go, Jakub Vrana got a breakaway during 4-on-4 after a brilliant pass from Filip Hronek, and the young winger did not disappoint.
Sweden pulled their goalie with more than three minutes to go, chasing a two-goal deficit. Jan Kovar scored an empty-net goal with 55 seconds to go, essentially ending the game.
USA 1-4 Slovakia
Team USA is doing their best to leave their old reputation of bringing weak teams behind, getting together stars like Dylan Larkin, Patrick Kane, Jack Eichel, or even Jack Hughes.
Slovakia are fielding one of their strongest teams in the past decade, featuring Andrej Sekera, Tomas Tatar, and Erik Cernak. Add to that some young, exciting players and the home-ice advantage, and Slovakia might have the recipe to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2012.
Slovakia came out firing and got the lead in the first five minutes. After Cory Schneider couldn't hold onto the puck, Marian Studenic took it behind the net, and found Matus Sukel who one-timed it for Slovakia's opener.
Team USA would tie it up just seven minutes later on the powerplay, Alex DeBrincat's quick slapshot beating Patrik Rybar stick side.
Beginning of the second period, Slovakia took advantage of a 5-on-3 powerplay with Andrej Sekera setting up Erik Cernak to rip a slap shot past Schneider to give Slovakia the lead.
Three minutes later, Slovakia made it 3-1 after the U.S. defense left Tomas Tatar unmarked and Schneider had no chance to get across in time to stop the shot.
After Team USA failed to clear, Michal Kristof won the puck on the edge of the attacking zone, skated in and scored the fourth, essentially ending the match with four minutes to go.