SOCHI, Russia – When USA officials and coaches ran Olympic game simulations in their minds over the past few months, they undoubtedly saw themselves winning the low-scoring games.
The U.S. team was built on strong goaltending and being hard to play against.
What the Americans didn't foresee coming was an opponent throwing a perfect game against them, like Canada did in a 1-0 semifinal game that puts the Canadians into the gold medal game against Sweden on Sunday. The Americans end up in the bronze medal game Saturday against Finland.
Canadian goalie Carey Price said if the team had thought about playing a flawless defensive game and "visualized it at the start of the day, we'd say mission accomplished."
ANALYSIS: Breaking down the game
The Canadian team just refused to give the Americans many prime scoring chances, or second-chance opportunities.
Given the importance of the game, this really might be the Canadian equivalent of Don Larsen throwing the perfect game in the World Series.
The Americans had scored 20 goals in their first games in this tournament, and yet they had good offensive looks in this game.
"They did a good job of keeping us to the outside, limiting our chances and traffic in front of the net," U.S. center David Backes said.
When it comes to winning, the difference between these two teams is tiny. Everything matters when they play. The Canadians beat the Americans at their game by being harder to play against than they were. It seemed as if the Americans rarely had the puck with any open ice available to them. There was no room to skate, and no lanes for their passes.
"It was just work ethic and real active sticks," said Canada's Jonathan Toews.
U.S. forward Ryan Callahan said it felt like they were always outnumbered when they were in the Canada zone. "We had a tough time sustaining any pressure," he said.
Canada's forwards seemed to have a cult-like devotion to defensive hockey in this game. The Canadians always seemed like they had five defensemen, instead of two. They were all relentless. "They all know how to play in tough situations," Price said. "They are comfortable being uncomfortable."
Interestingly enough, the big pre-tournament question about the Canadians was whether their goaltending would be good enough on the big stage.
Price answered those questions with a 31-save shutout in the biggest game of his career.
"I told Price right after the game that he controls the whole pace of the game," Canada's Ryan Getzlaf said. "When he eats pucks and swallows them and gets those faceoffs for us, it slows everything down."
The American team was picked with the idea that Jonathan Quick had the ability to be nearly invincible in net. He has a history now of rising up in big games and giving his team a chance to win by making big save after big save. The one goal he gave up was on a redirected shot-pass.
Quick did his job against the Canadians. He gave his team the opportunity to win. But the perfect game trumps near-invincibility. That's the difference between going to the gold medal game and playing for the bronze.
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