Sochi, Russia • The score was the biggest surprise of the U.S. women’s hockey team’s 6-1 victory over Sweden in the Olympic semifinals.
That’s right, only 6-1.
The Americans fired the game’s first 26 shots on goal, yet led just 3-0 after the first period.
Their two-period advantage was 51 shots to six (thanks to Sweden’s late flurry), but they extended the lead only to 5-0.
The final shot count was 70-9, one short of an Olympic record, Monday at Shayba Arena. So the Americans’ conversion and save percentages were unimpressive, but the performance was overwhelming.
The victory sends the Americans into Thursday’s gold medal game against Canada — a 3-1 winner over Switzerland — and took away a major blemish in U.S. women’s hockey history. Or maybe this magnified it.
As Monday’s game unfolded, the Americans’ 3-2 shootout loss to Sweden in the 2006 semifinals in Turin became more inconceivable.
The U.S. roster has turned over since then — Julie Chu, the only remaining player, is now a fourth-line forward — but the difference between these teams in eight years is startling. The Swedes still have Pernilla Winberg, who made the winning shot in Turin, and goalie Kim Martin Hasson, who replaced Valentina Wallner midway through the second period when they trailed 5-0.
Sweden was a surprise semifinalist this time, having upset bronze medal favorite Finland 4-2 in the quarterfinals. The Swedes were inferior from the start, allowing three goals in the opening 12 minutes.
So the Americans looked forward to a meeting with Canada in the gold medal game for the fourth time in five Olympic tournaments, including a 2-0 victory for the home team in Vancouver in 2010.
“There are 11 of us who have been training since Vancouver who came short,” said U.S. forward Monique Lamoureux. “It’s something that’s motivated us for the last four years. It’s something that really sticks with us.”
The USA won the inaugural women’s event in 1998 before Canada responded with a victory in West Valley City in 2002 and has not stopped winning. The Canadians went 774 minutes — the equivalent of nearly 13 games — without even trailing in Olympic competition before the USA took a 1-0 lead late in the second period of a preliminary game last week. Canada rallied for a 3-2 victory.