It may have been a big upset—as the U.S. staked claim to Group A to earn an automatic berth to the quarter-finals—but it was greatly helped by the poor goaltending of a three-time Stanley Cup champion and Olympic gold medallist.
Martin Brodeur, who led Canada to its first gold medal victory at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, played one of his worst games as a pro in a disappointing 5-3 loss.
In the process of helping the Americans moved on to the medal round, his shaky performance now forces the home country to play an extra game in the qualification playoff round and advance through the back door with a Tuesday matchup with Germany.
It should also mean giving Roberto Luongo the start in the qualification round, even if it's against an interior German opponent. Luongo played in Canada's 8-0 win over Norway to open the tournament.
For Brodeur, who's established himself as one of the best puck-handling goaltenders in the world, he got carried away playing the puck in Sunday night's all-important meeting and cost his country as a result.
The early first goal by American defenseman Brian Rafalski set the tone, but even after the opening marker the game was still Canada's and should have won—if not for Brodeur, whose poor puck handling was directly responsible for two U.S. goals.
On Rafalski's second goal, which came only 22 seconds after Eric Staal tied it for Canada in the second, Brodeur batted the puck out of the air and passed it right to his former Devils teammate, Rafalski, who went five hole to give the Americans a 2-1 advantage.
When Chris Drury put the U.S. in front 3-2, responding after Dany Heatley's tying goal, Brodeur was caught out of position after trying to make a play with the puck. It led to another go-ahead goal after Canada was able to regain a lot of the momentum, which they had most of the game anyway.
The home team completely dominated and controlled the tempo of play, outshooting the U.S. 19-6 in the first period and 14-4 in the final frame.
It was Ryan Miller, the Vezina trophy candidate, that had to be a difference-maker for the Americans, who absolutely stole the game right out of Canada's mitts.
Playing in front of Jim Craig, who backstopped another underdog American team to the Miracle on Ice, the U.S. starter between the pipes showed the rest of the world why he'll be nominated for NHL's best goaltender with a 42-save performance against the perennial Group A favorite entering the tournament.
But instead of Canada winning the group, the U.S., on the back of Miller, completed an undefeated round robin play and have established itself as a dark-horse threat in the medal round if the team continues to get great goaltending.
However, while Miller's shining Olympic moment was a great story, everyone in Canada will be talking about Brodeur's forgettable effort in net.
Needless to say, head coach Mike Babcock has to start Luongo in goal when the country takes the ice for its first must-win game of the tournament on Tuesday.
While the Canadians will likely advance past Germany—after which they would meet another historical hockey rival, Russia, in the quarter-finals—Canada needs much better goaltending moving forward if it has any hope to achieve the ultimate of winning hockey gold on home ice.
(5) Czech Republic vs. (12) Latvia
(6) Canada vs. (11) Germany
(7) Slovakia vs. (10) Norway
(8) Switzerland vs. (9) Belarus
(1) United States
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