Canada defeated the United States in controversial fashion to finish atop Group A in the 2014 Winter Olympic women's hockey tournament.
The game was tied at one early in the third period when the referee's whistle seemed to blow before the second Canadian tally crossed the goal line. After review, the goal was allowed and Canada went on to score the 3-2 win by holding off a late American rally.
Canada and the United States are heading directly to the semifinals based on the group results. Canada is the top overall seed and the U.S. is second. One more win by both teams will lead to a rematch in the gold-medal match on Feb. 20.
Result and Group Standings
|Group A - Canada vs. United States|
|Team||1st Period||2nd Period||3rd Period||Total|
|Final Group A Standings|
Both teams had already secured byes to the semifinals heading into the final game of group play. That didn't take away from the intensity on either side, though. The rivals were chippy from the outset, pushing and shoving after whistles as they battled for the top seed in the knockout round.
The first period was played at Canada's pace. Even though the United States grabbed the 11-8 shot edge, it wasn't able to find much open space as the Canadians imposed their more physical style.
Of course, a hard-fought contest between these two sides is what fans have come to expect. Kevin Allen of USA Today passed along comments about the rivalry from American forward Monique Lamoureux, who made it clear that every game against Canada is meaningful.
"Any game against Canada, whether you are playing in Timbuktu, with no one in the stands, or playing in front of 12,000 or 15,000 people, you get up for it."
The star of the opening 20 minutes was U.S. goaltender Jessie Vetter. She had to make a couple close-range stops to keep the game scoreless, especially when the Americans got a little stretched out defensively while trying to push the pace.
Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune noted her strong play:
Canadian goalie Charline Labonte was up to the task at the opposite end of the ice, as well.
After more of the same in the second period, the United States had a golden opportunity to break the deadlock with a two-on-none break on a penalty kill just past the midway point of the second period.
Hilary Knight made a great play at the blue line to force the turnover. She eventually found the loose puck and skated away with Kelli Stack, who took the pass and walked in all alone on Labonte. The Canadian netminder made a terrific stop to keep it scoreless.
The Americans wouldn't be denied a couple minutes later, however.
After Lauriane Rougeau took a penalty for Canada, Team USA was finally able to establish some offensive zone time. Anne Schleper let a shot go from the point, which was then redirected by Knight, who was left wide open in front to make it 1-0 United States.
Ashley Chase of WJAC-TV provided a picture of the deflection:
With the way both goalies were defending, that was probably the only type of play that was going to open the scoring. If Knight doesn't get a piece of the shot, Labonte likely makes the stop.
The second intermission came at a perfect time for Canada. The United States was starting to take complete control late in the period. The break allowed the Canadians to press the reset button.
Sure enough, early in the third period they were able to level the score. It was another power-play tally after a penalty to American forward Brianna Decker. Meghan Agosta-Marciano took a pass from Hayley Wickenheiser and easily deposited it in the open half of the net with Vetter out to challenge.
Donna Spencer of the Canadian Press noted before the game that it was Agosta-Marciano's birthday. Scoring against the U.S. in the Olympics is quite the present.
Canada took the lead less than two minutes later on a controversial goal.
Wickenheiser was given credit for the tally. She sent the puck toward the net and it was seemingly covered by Vetter. But the puck was actually trickling toward the goal line and went in the net just as the whistle sounded.
There was some initial confusion as USA Hockey's scores feed noted:
After checking the replay, it was deemed a goal to give Canada a 2-1 edge.
The Americans were never the same after what was nothing more than a fluke goal. Canada was able to generate more chances as the U.S. struggled to create any offensive pressure. Eventually that turned into a third goal for the Canadians.
Agosta-Marciano skated free from the American defenders and made no mistake on a breakaway to make it 3-1.
Schleper scored with just over a minute left and the goalie pulled to get the United States back within one. But they couldn't get the equalizer despite a late penalty on the Canadians to give them a de facto two-woman advantage.
Looking ahead, there's a very strong chance these teams will meet again. Although the rest of the world is still progressing toward making these women's tournaments more competitive, Canada and the United States are still a clear step above the rest.
The Canadians' play in the third period likely makes them the favorite in a potential rematch. It was a very closely contested game, however, and more of the same would be expected in the final. Clearly, one bounce is all it takes to change the complexion of the game.
Updated Medal Count