Watch the video above: Team Canada is off the gold medal game after a narrow win over its American rival. Stuart Greer reports
Today was pegged as the day Canada’s goal-scorers needed to live up to their reputations. In the end, only one puck crossed the goal line, but one was all they needed.
Team Canada faced off against the U.S. in the semifinals of the men’s Olympic hockey tournament on Friday.
There won’t be a reprise of the final game at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but today’s game may as well have been, with both teams fighting for the chance at gold – not particularly interested in third or fourth place.
The game was scoreless after a fast-paced first period, with both goalies tested early on, both looking sharp. Canada’s Jamie Benn opened up the scoring in the second, with a beautiful tip-in goal off a Jay Bouwmeester shot. The U.S. had three power plays in the first two periods, but Team Canada’s penalty kill was solid, shutting the Americans down.
Both teams headed into the third period looking for that crucial second goal of the game – it never came. A nation of hockey fans held their breath and waited out the clock. By the final horn, Benn’s goal was enough to send Canada to the gold medal round.
In his first real test of the tournament, Carey Price was perfect in net, making 31 saves for the shutout.
As expected, play in the first period was fast (almost twice as fast as the other semifinal game held on Friday), with more line matching than either team has seen so far in the tournament.
Both goalies (Carey Price for Canada and Jonathan Quick for the U.S.) were tested early on; both looking solid between the pipes.
Just over the halfway mark of the period, American Ryan Suter drew the first penalty of the game, two minutes for holding the stick. Quick shut down Canada’s power play.
The U.S. got a power play with four minutes left in the period after Patrick Marleau got two minutes for holding. Canada looked good on the penalty kill, the Americans didn’t get a shot on net during the man-advantage.
The period ended scoreless, with Canada outshooting the U.S. 16-11.
Canada opened up the scoring early in the second period. Jamie Benn netted a beautiful tip-in goal on a shot from Jay Bouwmeester.
A questionable call from the officials put Ryan Getzlaf in the box, two minutes for high sticking, giving the U.S. the man-advantage. They had more chances than in their first power play, but didn’t score. Canada continued to look strong on the penalty kill.
Canada’s Chris Kunitz gave the Americans their third power play of the game, on a slashing penalty, but the U.S. couldn’t even the score.
The shots on net were 12-11 for Canada in the second.
Canada had the jump at the beginning of the third period, hunting for that crucial second goal. But even with two full shifts spent entirely in the U.S. end, they couldn’t beat Quick in net.
Canada went on the power play halfway through the third on a Phil Kessel penalty. The U.S. killed off the penalty, blocking shots from Drew Doughty and Shea Weber.
With a minute left in the game the U.S. pulled Quick to get an extra attacker. But they weren’t able to solve Price. The clock ticked down to zero (and a nation of hockey fans exhaled). Canada will play in the gold medal game, Sunday at 7am ET against Sweden.
On paper, Team Canada and the U.S. looked like a pretty even match. They both headed into the semifinal game with 3-0 records, winning two games apiece in regulation time and one each in extra time (Canada beat Finland in overtime, the U.S. downed Russia in a dramatic shootout).
Both rosters feature top NHL players, with experience in the Winter Olympics and Stanley Cup playoffs.
But if you’ve been watching the games in Sochi, differences start to emerge.
Who is the better team? If you’re from north of the border, you might not like the answer.
“I would say the Americans,” said Ryan Kennedy, associate senior writer for The Hockey News.
Before Friday’s game, both teams were undefeated in the men’s Olympic hockey tournament, but Canada played in an easier group, facing Austria, Norway and Finland (they’re only real test in the preliminary round). The U.S. beat Slovakia, Slovenia and Russia – and looked good while doing it – to make it to the quarter-finals.
The U.S. easily beat the Czech Republic on Wednesday to advance to the semis, while Canada struggled to score against 11th seeded Latvia’s netminder Kristers Gudlevskis who played the game of his life.
Canada’s offense has been lacklustre throughout the Sochi Games, and in some cases non-existent.
Star forwards Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Corey Perry and Martin St. Louis have yet to score a goal. The majority of Canada’s offence has come from two defencemen: Shea Weber and Drew Doughty.
By contrast, the Americans have scored 20 goals in the tournament, averaging five a game. Phil Kessel is leading the Olympic tournament in scoring. His linemate James van Riemsdyk has five points in the tournament.
But when they actually play, all of this gets thrown out the window. “When they actually meet, it’s a coin flip,” said Kennedy.
“These two teams are very familiar with each other because all of the players are from the NHL and they’ve played against each other in various World Junior competitions in the past, and even the last Olympics,” he said.
Kennedy said if he had to call it, he’d predict a 3-2 or 3-1 with an empty-netter kind of game.
Ahead of the semifinal game, head coach Mike Babcock said he was “pumped” – that Team Canada is finally starting to look like a team.
One thing was certain ahead of Friday’s semifinal game – John Tavares would not play. The New York Islanders captain took a hit along the boards during Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Latvia. A spokesman for the Islanders wrote in an email Thursday that Tavares suffered an MCL and meniscus tear in his left knee. He’ll miss the rest of the Olympic tournament and NHL season.
Matt Duchene was back in the lineup against the U.S., stepping into Tavares’ spot, centering Patrick Sharp and Rick Nash on the fourth line.
“I’m back at my natural position, which is going to be nice,” said Duchene before the game. “And I played a lot of games on the big ice last year at centre so I know kind of what to expect in terms of that part of it as opposed to maybe playing on the wing.”
The lineup change highlights Canada’s depth down the centre going into the semifinals, who was a healthy scratch in two of the first four games in the tournament and played left wing in the other two.
“Duchy’s a real good centreman with great speed, so we’re not concerned about him that way,” said Babcock.
The top three forward lines stayed the same as the quarter-final game where Crosby centred Chris Kunitz and Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf centred Jamie Benn and Perry, and Toews centred Patrick Marleau and Jeff Carter.
Babcock also kept his defensive pairs together: Duncan Keith with Weber, Marc-Edouard Vlasic with Doughty, and Jay Bouwmeester with Alex Pietrangelo. Dan Hamhuis rotated in as the 7th defenceman.
Carey Price got the start in net, his fourth start of the tournament. He was backed up by Roberto Luongo.
P.K. Subban and Mike Smith were the healthy scratches.
U.S. defenceman Paul Martin did not play on Friday, he’s out with a hand injury.
Sweden is headed to the gold medal game after beating Finland 2-1 in a sleepy, methodical semifinal game.
With files from The Canadian Press
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