2010 Winter Olympics: Canada Vs USA For the Gold and What To Expect
In the back of your mind, you've known this matchup was coming since Team USA shocked Canada last Sunday in the preliminaries, haven't you?
Since then, Team USA has steamrolled two more opponents by a combined score of 8-1.
Meanwhile, Canada, bolstered by a switch at goaltender following its humiliating shootout squeaker against the Swiss and its loss to the United States, has rolled off three straight victories to reach the gold medal game as well.
So now comes the grudge match with all the gold left in Vancouver up for grabs.
What should we expect from Sunday's Olympic men's final?
Well, the United States and Canada have gotten here with very different styles.
For the U.S., Ryan Miller has supplied the best and most consistent goaltending in the tournament thus far.
Team USA has also played with temendous cohesiveness as a team, an amazing fact when you consider that unlike many of the European teams they've surpassed, this U.S. team has never before played together.
The U.S. work ethic has also been phenomenal; on offense when offense is needed and on defense when defense is needed. That is a hallmark of a Ron Wilson team, and it has paid enormous dividends for a squad that on the basis of its talent was regarded as a darkhorse to even medal.
At times, the U.S. has been outplayed and outshot, yet to support Miller's heroics at one end, the U.S. offense has displayed great opportunism in making the most of its chances at the other end.
The one time that wasn't the case, in the quarterfinals against Switzerland, Team USA showed that another great intangible was working in their favor: Luck. Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller stopped all 50+ shots he faced. Yet one of them rebounded forward off his chest and then somehow bounced off the ice straight backward by him and into the net for the winning goal.
On the other side, Canada's high-powered forward group got it going against Germany with eight goals and followed that up with another seven against Russia. Regularly putting 40-45 shots on their opponent's goal, what the Canadians lack as compared to the Americans in efficiency and opportunism they have made up for through relentless pressure.
When Canada isn't sitting on a lead, they routinely dominate play for several minutes at a time, regardless of the opponent, including the U.S. in the earlier game.
Their offense is being aided greatly by their blueliners, particularly Dan Boyle.
Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger have returned to the level that made them considered arguably the two best defensemen in the NHL. Shea Weber is also playing great for Canada. These are certainly blueliners of a caliber Team USA cannot even remotely offer its own comparisons for.
In net since replacing Brodeur, Roberto Luongo has been steady but not unbeatable. What he has had most of all is the good sense to let in goals only when Canada already had leads—big leads. Indeed, since Luongo took over, they have never trailed or even been tied after scoring their first goal of a game. Coaches often talk about getting saves when you need them. That's precisely what Luongo has given Team Canada.
Despite a coach in Mike Babcock every bit as intense and detail-oriented as Ron Wilson, overall, Canada has seldom played with the seamless cohesion of Team USA. Even during their current three-game win streak, lapses and mix-ups among teammates have led to goals against that their opponents didn't earn so much as Canada gave them up.
While they may not have had the luck of the Americans, Team Canada has its own intangible in its corner: home ice advantage with 20,000 crazily passionate fans.
Two teams from neighboring countries both riding winning streaks into this gold medal game, but by virtue of very different styles.
Two familiar foes playing for the second time in eight days.
It will be strategically interesting, it will be emotionally intense.
I offer no predictions other than this: This will be a game that whoever wins will always remember, and whoever loses will never forget.
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