EDMONTON - It was deja vu as the U.S. fell to 1-2 at the world junior hockey championships on Friday.
Another third-period letdown and another red-hot goalie protecting the opposing net for the second time in as many games led to the Americans falling 5-2 to the Czech Republic, much to the delight of the 14,733 at Rexall Place.
Following a surprising 4-1 loss to Finland on Wednesday where 38 of their scoring chances were stymied, the U.S. cranked up the offence against the Czechs, only to have Petr Mrazek hurt their chances for a third-straight podium finish with a 52-save performance.
"We knew it would be an important game for us and we played hard, we played smart and we won, so we're so happy," said Mrazek, the Ottawa 67s goalie who was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings 141st overall in 2010. "I was so focused before the game because it's America, right? And I'm playing in American hockey here.
"I wanted to win this game."
And he almost did it single-handedly, making a save on a penalty shot by Josh Archibald with the game tied 2-2 in the third, thentaking a shot in the dying moments that narrowly missed on an empty American net when the Czechs were up 4-2.
"After the penalty shot, I felt great because I believed that we could score some goals and win," Mrazek said.
And they did.
After trading a goal with the U.S. in each of the first two periods -- with Tomas Filippi answering T.J. Tynan's power-play marker and Tomas Hertl responding to Bill Arnold's go-ahead tally on the man-advantage -- the Czechs made a crucial error when Jiri Riha tripped up Archibald on a breakaway.
But Mrazek came up with his second save on a penalty shot in the tournament.
"I don't want to say something bad against the referees or anything, but I don't think it was bad enough for a penalty shot," said Mrazek, who also made a stop against Team Canada's Mark Stone on a previous penalty shot.
If the call bothered him, Mrazek certainly didn't show it, amping up the energy and visibly cheering on his teammates the rest of the way.
It fueled the fire for three goals in the last seven and a half minutes.
Filippi scored his second of the game, which was sandwiched by a pair of goals by Petr Holik, including the game winner and an empty netter to round off the scoring.
"I wanted, a little bit, to make the fans stand up here and I think 15,000 people stood up, so that was an incredible feeling for our whole team," Mrazek said of his celebrations, which didn't earn him any fans on the U.S. bench. "Well, I don't care about the U.S. team if they don't like my celebration.
"I think that was the best game I played in my life."
The U.S.'s second-straight loss makes the annual New Year's Eve matchup with Team Canada anticlimactic.
"It didn't turn out in our favour," said U.S. defenceman Jarred Tinordi. "There's nothing we can do about it now, we've just got to worry about Canada (Saturday) night.
"It's still got all the same meaning for us. It's going to be a hostile building, we want to go in there and play our game."