Friday featured plenty of pulse-pounding action inside the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi as the final four men's hockey teams competed for a berth in Sunday's gold-medal game.
Reigning Olympic gold medalists Canada are headed back to the final for the second consecutive year after shutting out Team USA in a hard-fought border battle. The favorites will take on Sweden, who held on to beat Finland 2-1 in Friday's opening semifinal.
The two hockey superpowers have combined to win gold at each of the last three Olympics, setting the stage for an epic winner-take-all clash.
Sweden & Canada will play for men's hockey gold. Last Olympic meeting was 2002 (Sweden won). Last played for gold in 1994 (Sweden won in SO)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 21, 2014
But before the puck drops, let's take a closer look at what we learned on Friday.
Canada Has Team USA's Number
While Canada's 1-0 win over the United States on Friday was telling in terms of Canada's defensive prowess and the Americans' lack of offensive productivity, the result also reaffirmed what we already knew coming into these Winter Games, that Team Canada own this captivating North American rivalry.
Since the Olympics began using NHL players in 1998, Canada has won 3 of 4 meetings against the United States in the Olympics.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 21, 2014
Make that four of five meetings.
Four years after Sidney Crosby broke the U.S.'s collective heart with an overtime stunner in Vancouver, it was Jamie Benn who scored the decisive goal for Canada on Friday.
Now, for the second straight Olympics, Team Canada will play for the gold while the U.S. head home disappointed (with or without the bronze).
On USA-Canada... MW: "There's no shame. This was a spectacular game." TK: "You know what the worst of this is? We now have to keep Bieber."— PTI (@PTI) February 21, 2014
Adding to the heartbreak for America, Friday's defeat marked the second one-goal loss to Canada in as many days. The American women surrendered a two-goal lead in the waning moments of Thursday's gold-medal match before going on to lose in overtime.
The women secured silver, but the men will have to beat a strong Finland side on Saturday in order to leave Sochi with a piece of hardware. If the U.S. wins, it'll mark the Americans' third men's hockey medal in the last four Olympics.
Henrik Lundqvist is Peaking at Ideal Time
Sweden netminder Henrik Lundqvist is playing lights-out this winter in Sochi and as a result, the Swedes are just one win away from their second Olympic gold medal since 2006.
Lundqvist's 12 career Olympic wins are second, behind only Tretiak (17 for USSR). #Sochi2014— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) February 21, 2014
The 31-year-old has been a brick wall in the crease for the Scandinavian powerhouse through five games, recording two shutouts and 117 saves. With only six goals surrendered since the tournament began, Lundqvist is sporting a save percentage of .951 coming into Sunday's gold-medal game.
Lundqvist stopped 25 shots and let in just one goal in Sweden's 2-1 victory over Finland on Friday and is now playing with tremendous confidence, per The New York Daily News' Wayne Coffey:
It’s an amazing feeling, to get this opportunity. Overall, I think we played a really solid game. I think we played our best so far in this tournament. I hope we save our best for last. We’re going to need it. We’re going to play an even better team on Sunday.
With Lundqvist coming off a dominant performance against the reigning Olympic bronze medalists and an even more impressive outing against Slovenia in the quarterfinals, Sweden must feel good about their chances of claiming gold this weekend.
The Swedes have yet to lose a single game in Sochi this February, and their come-from-behind win over Finland is a reminder that Canada are no lock to repeat in 2014.
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