The U.S. won Group A and earned a bye into the quarterfinals with a 3-2 win over Germany in their Olympic men's hockey preliminary-round finale on Sunday.
The Americans entered the game needing only a win or a regulation tie to secure the top seed in their group. They finished with a 3-0-0 record and won't play again until Wednesday.
As they did throughout the preliminary round, the Americans controlled play at 5-on-5 with their speed and strong forechecking. The youngest team in the tournament with 15 NCAA players, the U.S. managed to hold on for the win despite a late third-period goal from Germany that cut the lead to one.
"I think it proves that we can win these close games, and down the road that's going to be big for us," said forward Nathan Smith, who scored the game-winning goal. "We have a lot of young guys, but we're a mature team. Our leadership group of older guys do a really good job of getting the younger guys going for games."
Goalie Drew Commesso made 24 saves for his second win of the preliminary round.
Special teams defined the first period. Germany scored on a power play just two minutes into the game, as Patrick Hager -- the team's leading scorer in a silver-medal-winning run in the 2018 Pyeongchang Games -- beat Commesso from in close.
Similar to their win over Canada, the Americans responded quickly to their early deficit, as defenseman Steve Kampfer scored a power-play goal to make it 1-1 just 4:26 into the period. The U.S. also killed off a double-minor for high-sticking on forward Kenny Agostino, limiting the Germans to one shot on goal. The U.S. plays its best at 5-on-5, using their speed and forecheck, so this disjointed opening period wasn't ideal.
The U.S. took a 2-1 lead thanks to tremendous forechecking and a terrific diving pass from behind the net by forward Nick Abruzzese to University of Minnesota freshman forward Matt Knies for the goal.
"A lot of credit goes to him. He put a lot of work into that shift," said Knies of Abruzzese.
The Germans made an odd challenge for goalie interference, and the officials correctly ruled there wasn't any that impacted the goal.
The U.S. couldn't convert on a power play to open the third period but were able to score a critical insurance goal soon after. Abruzzese's forecheck forced a turnover from defenseman Jonas Muller. The puck went to Smith, who beat goalie Danny aus den Birken on a quick backhander for the 3-1 lead just 47 seconds after the power play ended. Smith, a forward for Minnesota State, leads NCAA Division I in scoring.
Germany made things interesting as former forward Tom Kuhnhackl, who played in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders, scored from in tight to cut the deficit with 2:29 left in regulation. But the Americans held on as they seek their first gold medal in men's hockey since 1980.