U.S. tops Austria 6-1 in first round

4/27/2009 - NHL

BERN, Switzerland -- The United States broke open a close game with four goals in the third period, beating Austria 6-1 on Monday to reach the second round of the ice hockey world championship.

Dustin Brown had a goal and two assists, and Patrick O'Sullivan and Jason Blake each added a goal and an assist for the Americans. Drew Stafford, Lee Stempniak and defenseman Matt Niskanen also scored goals.

U.S. coach Ron Wilson challenged his team when it led 2-1 after two periods.

"I think they responded somewhat to my challenge," Wilson said. "We could have put it away fairly early had we scored on some of our wide open chances. We were a little bit casual."

The United States beat Latvia 4-2 on Saturday and is assured of reaching the second round, which features two groups of six teams beginning play Thursday. The U.S. finishes Group C play against Sweden on Wednesday.

Sweden was stunned by Latvia later Monday, losing 3-2 in a shootout. It was the first time in 12 meetings that Latvia had defeated the traditional hockey power.

In Zurich, the Czech Republic scored three times in the first 13 minutes Monday to beat Norway 5-2 and reach the second round from Group D. Finland then shook off a sluggish start to beat Denmark 5-1 and reach the second round.

The United States got out to an early lead when Brown, the Los Angeles Kings captain, scored at 15:11 by sending a backhander past Austria goalie Jurgen Penker.

The U.S. made it 2-0 midway through the second period after goalie Robert Esche saved a slap shot from Matthias Trattnig. At the other end, Stafford tapped in a loose puck in the crease when Nick Foligno's shot was saved.

Esche was stranded out of goal when Austria scored at 14:26. He misplaced a pass and Markus Peintner scored from beyond the left circle.

The U.S. wasted little time pushing its lead back to two goals when O'Sullivan scored for the second straight game 25 seconds into the third period. Brown and Jason Blake got the assist.

Three more goals came on power plays. Blake scored from close range on another assist from Brown, Stempniak scored from the left circle, and Niskanen scored during a late 5-on-3.

"Our power play was huge today," Brown said. "It's going to need to be good against Sweden and throughout the tournament. That could be a difference maker for us."

Esche, who plays for St. Petersburg in Russia, had 25 saves for his second win of the tournament. The United States outshot Austria 38-26, and shut down Buffalo Sabres star Thomas Vanek, who was held without a point for the second straight game.

"We are obviously going to need that killer instinct when we play the Swedes," Wilson said. "They are a very good team, a puck possession team, and play a little different from what we've seen so far."