ADLER, Russia - In a period of less than 24 hours, Canada dealt the United States two painful losses in ice hockey at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
After the Canadian women came through with a dramatic 3-2 overtime victory against the Americans Thursday to win the gold medal in their Olympic tournament, Canada's men followed with a 1-0 win Friday in a semifinal contest to knock the U.S. out of contention for a gold medal.
In what turned out to be a defensive battle, a goal scored by Jamie Benn with less than two minutes gone in the second period held up as the game-winner to lift Canada into Sunday's gold medal matchup against Sweden. The Swedes edged Finland 2-1 earlier Friday to earn their berth in the final.
Canada’s Sidney Crosby and Ryan Callahan of Rochester reach for the puck during Friday night’s semifinal.
Photo — Lou Reuter/Lake Placid News
For the U.S. men, it was another tough loss to rival Canada over the past two Olympics. At the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, the Canadians topped the Americans in overtime in the gold medal game.
U.S. head coach Dan Byslma, who is also the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, said that in the end, Canada's speed got the best of his team.
"The Canadians played a fast game," he said. "They came at us with 20 guys tonight; they came at us with speed; they came at us for 60 minutes. We weren't able to counter that. It was a tough game for us. It was as fast a game as I've ever been a part of."
In a game that saw Canada own a 37-31 advantage in shots on goal, Benn was the only player to find the back of the net. He scored 1:41 into the second period when he converted a pass from defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. On the play, Bouwmeester sent the puck in front of the U.S. net from inside the left point. Benn picked up the pass coming in on the right wing and wristed a shot past goalie Jonathan Quick.
Both teams headed into the game with 4-0 records in the Olympic tournament, which included three victories in pool play and one in their quarterfinal matchups.
The Americans advanced to their semifinal showdown with a 5-2 victory over the Czech Republic Wednesday. In the Americans' final pool play game, a 5-1 victory over Slovenia on Feb. 16, Phil Kessel scored a hat trick to lead the way. Byslma said part of his team's gameplan was to get the puck to Kessel again.
"We were trying to get Kessel the chances, and he had a couple in the first period," Byslma said. "But we weren't able to find that goal. The two greatest hockey teams in the world were out there for the opportunity to play for a gold medal, and we missed out on that opportunity."
Both Byslma and Mike Babcock, who is the head coach of Canada as well as the Detroit Red Wings, agreed that each team had more solid scoring opportunities than the one that Benn buried.
"It's a game of inches, it's a game of chances, and we both had better chances than on the goal," Babcock said. "I thought to get that first goal was big. You score one, you get the momentum. It's easier playing with a lead. There were a lot of better chances that didn't find the back of the net.
"It's such a hard thing to win this," Babcock said. "You have to line up the moon and stars to win. You have two great teams with such wonderful talent, and you have a one-goal game. It's not easy winning any medal. We played a good hockey game tonight."
Carey Price, who plays for the Montreal Canadians, earned the shutout in nets for Canada. He made 31 saves.
"Hockey is a game of inches, a game of bounces, and we got them tonight," Price said, echoing the similar statement made by his team's coach. "Both teams wanted to win, and I feel blessed to win that hockey game. I'm really excited just to soak in this moment right now. It's fun. Hockey is the best game in the world."
Quick started in all five games for the U.S. so far, and Byslma said he was the top player for the U.S. against Canada. Byslma, however, did say his players gave everything they had. Tonight, they will have the opportunity to head home with a bronze medal when they square off against Finland in the third place game. And Byslma wants to see nothing short of a victory in that matchup.
"Our guys battled hard; they laid it on the line," he said. "We all feel disappointed with this game, but we still have a lot to play for. We're going home with a bronze medal."