Canada and the United States have both booked their tickets, in very different ways, to the gold medal game on Sunday (3.15 pm EST / 12.15 pm PST) setting up an all North American Olympic men’s hockey final and a rematch of the 2002 Salt Lake City gold medal game won by Canada.
The Americans advanced by winning the early semifinal convincingly, throttling Finland 6-1, led by Patrick Kane’s two goals. The U.S. scored all six of their goals in the first period and the easy win enabled American goaltender Ryan Miller, who had played every minute of every game thus far, to take a rest in the third period as Tim Thomas took a turn between the pipes.
In the evening semifinal, Canada squeaked by Slovakia 3-2, withstanding a prolonged, furious Slovak rally in the final 1:11 of the game, reminiscent of Canada’s late, desperate push against the U.S. last Sunday night. The Slovakians outshot Canada 12-7 in the final period, packing most of their scoring chances into a wild final minute that included Vancouver Canuck Pavol Demitra getting robbed at the right side of the net by the outstretched left glove of his NHL teammate Roberto Luongo with ten seconds remaining. In a great show of sportsmanship, Demitra patted Luongo on the chest and the two Canucks hugged during the postgame handshake line, both appearing to exchange mutual compliments before skating apart.
Since one-game elimination rounds were added to men’s hockey starting with the 1992 Olympics, Canada has appeared in a record-tying five semifinal games and will now appear in a record fourth gold medal game.
Canada used screens and deflections to solve Slovakian goaltender Jaroslav Halak in the first period. Shea Weber’s shot from the right point was deflected downward by Patrick Marleau past the glove of Halak for the opening goal at 13:30. Halak immediately looked at the referee and raised his goal stick implying Marleau used a high-stick to score. After a lengthy video review, the play stood as a good goal. Less than two minutes later, Chris Pronger put a low, soft shot on net and once again, a deflection, this time by Brenden Morrow batting the puck on a bounce over Halak’s right pad, gave Canada a 2-0 lead.
In the second period, Slovakia continued to use a neutral zone trap to limit Canada’s scoring chances and ability to penetrate the offensive zone. Slovakia also escalated their physical play to counteract Canada’s aggressive forechecking. Towering Slovak defenceman Zdeno Chara, with an eight inch height advantage, twice hit Morrow hard, the second hit drawing a roughing penalty. After Richard Zednik committed a holding-the-stick penalty late in the period, Canada’s power play went to work and made Slovakia pay. Corey Perry floated a shot on net with Morrow again screening Halak. The rebound came out in front where Ryan Getzlaf from his knees, flicked a high wrist shot over the glove of Halak.
Roberto Luongo played his third straight game and was solid once again. He turned aside 19 shots, none flashier early on than his pad stop on Ziggy Palffy’s breakaway with less than two minutes remaining in the middle period. The rebound trickled into Brent Seabrook’s skates but Joe Thornton backchecking, dove and deflected the puck off the right post. It was the closest Slovakia would come to beating Luongo until the final period.
At 11:35 of the third, on just their thirteenth shot of the game and fourth of the period, Lubomir Visnovsky swooped in from the right point, cut towards the net then banked the puck off Luongo’s left pad to cut Canada’s lead to 3-1. Then, with less than five minutes left, Michal Handzus poked in a rebound of a Zednik backhand shot moments after Handzus got checked so hard into the Canadian net by Shea Weber that the net fell forward, with the crossbar missing Luongo’s head by inches. Then came the lightning quick attack by Slovakia at the end of the game which fell just inches short. Despite their loss, Slovakia will play for bronze against Finland on Saturday evening.
However, like a Hollywood script, Canada has moved into the gold medal game on home ice and their opponent for the final event of the 2010 Winter Olympics will be the unbeaten United States, the only country that has defeated or held a lead on Canada at any point during the tournament. Will the Americans be able to avenge their home loss to Canada from eight years ago? On the contrary, perhaps Canada will provide a Hollywood ending to these Olympics with a victory that the entire country has been dreaming of since Vancouver won the right to host the Winter Games seven years ago.
About the Author: Adrian Fung (@PenguinsMarch) contributes game reports, opinions, analysis and features, mostly about the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has covered the World Hockey Summit, Kraft Hockeyville, World Junior Championship exhibition games, CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, MasterCard Memorial Cup and NHL Rookie Tournament for Hockey Independent. twitter.com/PenguinsMarch