TORONTO -- Team North America began the World Cup of Hockey 2016 by making an emphatic statement.
Forwards Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin scored in a dominant 4-1 win against Team Finland in the preliminary-round opener for each team at Air Canada Centre on Sunday.
The team of players 23 and under from Canada and the United States was playing its first competitive game and put on a show, taking over in the second period with three goals and dominating Team Finland with wave after wave of speed and skill.
"We're here to play," Gaudreau said. "Hopefully teams don't take us lightly. I think we're a fast, speed, skilled team and hopefully we can keep proving people we belong here."
Team North America outshot Team Finland 18-6 in the second period, and goaltender Matt Murray was hardly tested over the 20 minutes because his teammates kept the puck in the Team Finland zone for entire shifts at a time.
"The second period was a cold shower for us," Team Finland coach Lauri Marjamaki said. "They got better, they won every battle, they skate hard. They are so impressive."
Marjamaki said goaltender Pekka Rinne, who made 39 saves, was the best player for Team Finland.
Murray's shutout was lost when Valtteri Filppula scored for Team Finland at 15:53 of the third period.
"I think it's just about winning the game," said Murray, who made 24 saves. "It [stinks] in this tournament because I know goals against is a tiebreaker at some point, so, yeah, it hurts a little bit, but we won and that's what matters. I think we played the way we needed to tonight. We were on the puck quick and moving the puck fast and shooting the puck a lot, which I think is key."
Eight of Team North America's 12 forwards had a point in the game and defenseman Colton Parayko was the only player with two points, assisting on the goals by Gaudreau and MacKinnon.
Auston Matthews, the No 1 pick at the 2016 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, assisted on Eichel's power-play goal at 5:03 of the first period on his third shift in his first game at his future home rink.
"It's a pretty good feeling to go out there and contribute," Matthews said. "All four lines really brought something tonight. We definitely put them on their heels."
Team Finland kept pace in the opening period before Team North America pulled away in the second, starting with a goal by Gaudreau at 5:27. Drouin made it 3-0 at 7:27 of the second period, using a toe drag to get around defenseman Ville Pokka and put a dangerous shot on goal before scoring on his own rebound.
MacKinnon completed the scoring at 14:37 of the second, corralling a rebound of a Parayko shot and deking around Rinne to score.
Goal of the game: With Team North America on the power play, Matthews beat Team Finland defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen along the left wing boards and put a rising shot on goal that Rinne couldn't handle, leaving a rebound that Eichel put behind him at 5:03 of the first period, giving Matthews a point in his first game at Air Canada Centre. "Power-play breakouts is something we've worked on and [Connor McDavid] made a great kick out and [Matthews] was able to escape a check on the wall and drive the net," Eichel said. "That's a great play by him."
Save of the game: Just before the midpoint of the first period, Team North America center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins got the puck to the right of the Team Finland net, put a saucer pass through the legs of Filppula and right on the tape of Drouin. But Drouin's shot was met by a sliding Ristolainen, who got across before Rinne and prevented a goal.
Unsung moment of the game: With defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere in the penalty box, Team North America had to withstand a Team Finland power play at 1:37 of the first period. Murray made a great save on Filppula and on Miikko Koivu on the rebound, maintaining the scoreless tie. Eichel scored less than two minutes later to give Team North America a 1-0 lead. "I think that's a big point in the game," Murray said. "I think if they score on that, obviously they have the momentum and maybe it's a different game. I thought the penalty kill did a great job and kept them to the outside for the most part. I think that kill was huge."
Highlight of the game: Team Finland made a poor clearing attempt in their defensive zone that was intercepted by Parayko, who put the puck down and shot it from the point. The shot looked to be going wide, but Gaudreau, who was in front of the net, jumped and spun in the air while tipping the puck on his backhand behind Rinne at 5:27 of the second period.
They said it
"We started to realize what was going to work against them and how they were playing. That's what made us successful. We stuck to our game plan, kept the puck away from Rinne, put it behind their defensemen and used our speed. That's how we're going to have success in this tournament." – Eichel
"I was impressed by that team, they really took it to us and showed their individual skill, but also as a team they were extremely dangerous. I'm not going to take anything away from them, but I thought that we weren't ready to go tonight. We made too many mistakes, we weren't skating and that was the result." - Rinne
Need to know
Team North America coach Todd McLellan ran a very balanced bench, with no forward playing fewer than 12:12 of ice time (Brandon Saad), and no one higher than 16:04 (Nugent-Hopkins). ... Matthews and Dylan Larkin of Team North America each had a game-high five shots on goal. ... Team Finland forward Jori Lehtera played a team low 8:44.
Team North America: Plays Team Russia in the second preliminary round game for each team on Monday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports).
Team Finland: Plays Team Sweden in the second preliminary round game for each team on Tuesday (3 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN, TVA Sports).