Sochi, Russia • Russia’s hockey team must have hijacked the fire wagon from the United States to extinguish the Olympic flame on its humbled journey out of town.
How else to explain the soulless clash Friday between North American powers headlining the marquee matchup of the Olympic tournament?
Canada, the reigning gold medalists, ultimately prevailed 1-0 to advance to the title game for the third time in four Olympics.
Team USA, which won silver medals after losses to Canada in 2002 and 2010, will have to settle for a bronze medal JV game Saturday against Finland while the Canadians face Sweden for global supremacy Sunday.
It was an efficient slog for Canada, which dominated the puck with a physical game that drained the energy from the high-octane Americans, stultifying the crowd of 11,172 that came to see pond hockey — not Wild-Devils circa 2001.
Sure, there was speed. Canada roared up and down the ice and essentially played keep-away as Team USA remained a step behind and tired trying to catch up.
"We didn’t show up to play," groused defenseman Ryan Suter, the U.S. alternate captain from the Minnesota Wild. "It’s kind of frustrating. They’re a good team. We sat back. We were passive. You can’t play scared. I thought we sat on our heels and just didn’t take it to them at all."
The United States boasted a balanced and prolific offense, with a tournament-leading 20 goals in four games compared with Canada’s 13. But the Americans could not produce one when it mattered most.
Not Phil Kessel, whose five goals and nine points led all players, nor Patrick Kane, who has laid an Olympic goose egg.
"We had an awesome opportunity. I don’t think we laid it on the line like we needed to to win," said center David Backes. "A 1-0 game in the semifinal against your rival country, it’s a sour taste, for sure."
Team USA failed to generate much electricity on its three power plays. Its forecheck was virtually nonexistent. Canada made it difficult for American forwards to work with impunity like they had throughout the tournament.
"We have some big forwards and were able to hold the puck down low," Canadian captain Sidney Crosby said. "We forced them to play in the defensive zone a lot. They’ve got a lot of guys who are skilled. They have a lot of speed, but I think we did a good job of keeping them in there for at least 20 seconds in shifts."
American Goalie Jonathan Quick was strong, making 36 saves. But Jamie Benn broke the ice early in the second period.
Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester crashed the zone hard and wristed a shot wide right, avoiding a charging Backes. Benn cut to the net and got a blade on Bouwmeester’s pass-shot, redirecting it top shelf at 1:41.
And that was it for offense. Canada outshot the Americans 37-31 and improved to 50-7-3 internationally against the United States, which has to recalibrate quickly for Saturday’s bridesmaids game against the Finns.
"It’s one more time to wear this red, white and blue for our country and hopefully come home with some hardware,"
Backes said. "That’s what our sights are on now. Obviously it’s a sick feeling tonight, but we’ve got one more chance tomorrow to make this trip worth it."
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