The United States men's hockey team had revenge on its mind against Canada in the semifinals of the 2014 Winter Olympics tournament, but the defending gold medalists foiled Team USA again by a score of 1-0.
Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn had the game's only goal early in the second period, and the Canadians held on from their to secure their place in the gold medal final against Sweden.
The Canadian Press (via Yahoo! Sports) has Jonathan Toews' thoughts on the win:
"A lot of people expect us to be there, and expect us to just show up in the final and have a chance to play for the gold medal," he said. "But we knew it was going to be a lot of work, a lot of effort and a lot of adversity to get there."
Corey Perry expressed his excitement about the gold-medal opportunity:
"This is huge," said Canadian forward Corey Perry. "This is what we were put together for and this is why we're here. Everyone wants to win. We've got that one chance on Sunday and we've got to make it count."
It was the second time in two days a Canadian team had broken Americans' hearts. On Thursday, Canada won the women's hockey gold with an overtime victory over Team USA, despite a 2-0 American lead at the beginning of the third period.
Canada's defense prevented the United States from generating quality scoring chances on Friday, while Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price took care of everything that headed toward the net.
That strong combination was ultimately the difference in favor of Canada, according to Mike Wise of The Washington Post.
Canada guts it out. Good win for the Canadians. Brilliant goaltending, great defense neutralized U.S. great offense.— Mike Wise (@MikeWiseguy) February 21, 2014
Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was fantastic as he turned away 36 of Canada's 37 shots. Price saved 31.
The United States will play Finland for bronze on Saturday, per the IIHF on Twitter:
There was a great deal of anticipation surrounding this semifinal encounter, especially after Canada's dramatic overtime win against Team USA in the gold-medal game at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Add in the fact that both teams entered Friday's contest undefeated, and all the ingredients were in place for an incredible spectacle.
It's likely that more than a few American and Canadian hockey fans came down with a "mysterious illness" that caused them to stay home from work, but NBC Olympics on Twitter had them covered with a humorous mock doctor's note:
Those who decided to play hooky weren't disappointed. They were treated to a physical, fast-paced and cerebral game that perfectly illustrated the excitement of Olympic hockey.
Both teams had stretches of offensive brilliance in the first period, but it was all about the goaltending. Price stonewalled the Americans several times, including a brilliant look from Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson in the slot.
Canada took over as the period wore on, but it was unable to find the back of the net against Quick. The first intermission came at a good time for an American team that seemed to be reeling.
As Eric Stansfield of 1150 AM radio in Kelowna, British Columbia, pointed out, all signs pointed toward the game being decided by the better goaltender:
The battle right now is between Cda's Carey Price and USA's Jonathan Quick...who makes the first mistake?— Eric Stansfield (@EricStansfield) February 21, 2014
Quick earned that distinction in the first period with 16 saves to Price's 11, but things would be a bit different in the ensuing 20 minutes of play.
The breakneck pace continued early in the second period. Canada immediately put pressure on the United States following several close calls in the opening stanza.
Canada set up shop in the Americans' zone and was ultimately rewarded. Benn was credited with the goal 1 minute, 41 seconds into the middle frame, but it was St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester who set things up with a precision shot pass, according to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com:
What a pass by Bouwmeester, had no lane to shoot, found Benn's stick. Beauty— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) February 21, 2014
Few backstops in the world could have foiled such a grand opportunity.
That was far from Canada's only scoring chance of the period as it continued to accumulate the bulk of the offensive zone time. Canada outshot the United States by a margin of just 12-11, but if not for two American power plays, it would have been an absolutely dominant period for the Canadians.
All things considered, American head coach Dan Bylsma had to be pleased that his team trailed only 1-0 since Canada could have potentially broken things open in the second. Although the eye test gave a big advantage to Canada, the stats were fairly even through two periods:
Canada continued to stifle Team USA defensively for much of the third period, and it played an effective puck possession game on offense. Although Canada's goalscoring has been a concern throughout the tournament, there is no question that its offensive play helped hold the United States at bay.
Team USA was able to stay in it, however, thanks to the spectacular play of Quick along with some timely shot blocking. It can be argued that the offensive effort wasn't good enough for the Americans, but no one should question their defensive wherewithal.
Canada looked ready to put the game away midway through the third period on a power play, but the United States avoided disaster. New York Rangers forward Ryan Callahan sacrificed his body twice. He slid in front of a shot from Shea Weber, who happens to have the NHL's hardest slapper.
As Daniel Friedman of WFAN pointed out, Callahan singlehandedly kept the outcome in doubt:
Ryan Callahan just saved the day.— Daniel Friedman (@DFriedmanOnNYI) February 21, 2014
The Americans had no business being one goal down for as long as they were, but Quick was nearly unbeatable. According to Jeff Borzello of CBSSports.com, Quick turned in a performance that American fans can be proud of:
Some seriously inspiring play from Jonathan Quick today. Wow.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) February 21, 2014
With time winding down and the score still 1-0 in favor of Canada, the Americans were forced to pull the goalie. Canada nearly scored on the empty net on a couple of occasions, but defenseman Ryan McDonagh guarded the net admirably.
The United States tried to beat Price and force overtime, but as was the story throughout much of the game, the American players couldn't control the puck in high-quality areas.
While the 1-0 result makes it look like a close game on the surface, Canada was clearly the better team throughout. The Canadians have just five goals in their past three games, but they have won them all.
Head coach Mike Babcock has had to answer questions about his team's lack of offensive potency. However, he downplayed the issues heading into the semifinals, per Greg Beacham of The Associated Press.
They haven't gone in. Do we worry that much about that, or do we just know good players score in the end? Lots of times in the Stanley Cup playoffs, your team goes a ways and your best players have no points in the first round. Someone else picks them up. But by the time it's all over, they're leading the thing in scoring. It's not about that. It's about finding a way to be the best team.
When push came to shove on Friday, Canada was indeed the better team. Whether or not it is the best team in Sochi will be decided in the gold-medal game against Sweden on Sunday. The Swedes are the only team in the tournament to win every game in regulation, and they will arguably have the advantage in net thanks to Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
Which team will win Olympic gold in men's hockey?
Price has been great for Canada, but Lundqvist won gold for Sweden in 2006, so he is battle tested on the Olympic stage.
At the same time, Sweden is dealing with injuries to key players as Henrik Zetterberg, Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen are all out of action. Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson has made the Swedish attack quite dangerous, though, which is something Canada could have trouble with.
The Canadians are due for an offensive outburst, though, and their impenetrable defense will stymie what can be called an overachieving Swedish team.
As for the Americans, they must quickly shake off the disappointment of this loss and get ready for Finland. The United States boast a better all-around team, but it's possible that Finland will be more motivated since its gold medal aspirations weren't quite as strong.
One thing that could work in Team USA's favor is the status of Finnish goalie Tuukka Rask. He missed the semifinal game against Sweden due to an illness, per Shawn Roarke of NHL.com:
Tuukka Rask out for semifinal vs. Sweden. Word he is suffering from flu. Huge blow. Lehtonen is the starter now, backed up by Niemi— Shawn Roarke (@sroarke_nhl) February 21, 2014
It is unknown if he will play in the bronze-medal game, but his absence would mean a big advantage for the Americans.
The Finns will try to lock down the United States defensively just like Canada did, but expect Team USA to channel its play from earlier in the tournament and salvage things with a bronze medal triumph.
Friday's semifinal between the U.S. and Canada felt very much like a gold-medal game, but both teams still have to finish strong, and they have the talent necessary to do it.
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