Canada had just defeated the U.S. 1-0 to reach the gold-medal game in men’s hockey, and players quickly refocused on their real goal in Sochi -- becoming the first nation in 22 years to retain an Olympic championship.
Last night’s victory at the Bolshoy Ice Dome sent Canada to tomorrow’s final against 2006 gold medalist Sweden and left the U.S. playing for the bronze tonight against Finland, which has won a men’s hockey medal in four of the past five Olympics.
“We’ve got one more game to prove we’re still on top and we’re going to work as hard as we can to prove we’re the best,” Canadian forward Jonathan Toews said.
The only goal came when Jamie Benn of the National Hockey League’s Dallas Stars scored on a deflection from right in front of the net 1:41 into the second period. Carey Price of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens stopped 31 shots for the shutout.
Canada now has a chance to become the first nation with back-to-back men’s championships since the Soviet Union won three straight in 1984, 1988 and 1992. In the last of those Olympics, it was playing as the Unified Team.
There was widespread interest in yesterday’s game back in Canada. Trading volume from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on the Standard & Poor’s/TSX Composite Index, Canada’s benchmark equity gauge, was 14 percent lower than the five-day average before the Olympics started.
“We’re truly blessed to win that game tonight,” Price said. “If we were to think about that result, visualize that result at the start of the day, then you could say mission accomplished.”
The Americans need to defeat Finland to get their first medal in an Olympics held outside North America since they took the silver at the 1972 Sapporo Games in Japan. The U.S. still has not won gold since the 1980 Lake Placid Games.
“There’s huge disappointment with not being able to come up with the victory in this game, but it has to be put behind us, we have much to play for,” said U.S. coach Dan Bylsma, who also coaches the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. “We want to come home with a bronze medal.”
Canada solidified its domination of the U.S. in the most frequently played matchup in men’s Olympic hockey, having a 12-3 record with three ties against the Americans. Since the world’s top players from the NHL have been allowed to participate in the Olympics in 1998, Canada is 4-1 against the U.S.
The previous time the teams had met at the Olympics was in the final at the 2010 Vancouver Games, where Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal lifted the Canadians past their North American neighbors for the gold medal.
“We’ve got a great opportunity and I don’t think Vancouver means anything right now with what we have to do in the next 48 hours,” said Crosby, a Penguins player who again is on the Canadian team.
The victory by the Canadian men came one night after the Canadian women’s team defeated the U.S. 3-2 in overtime to win its fourth straight Olympic gold medal. The women were at last night’s game.
Toews, of the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, said much of the credit for the victory against the U.S. goes to goaltender Price.
“This is the ultimate pressure for a Canadian hockey player, and he’s not come up short by any means,” Toews said. “Beating that team really means a lot to us.”
Sweden defeated Finland 2-1 in yesterday’s other semifinal as Henrik Lundqvist, who plays for the NHL’s New York Rangers, stopped 25 shots. It was a rematch of the 2006 Turin Games gold-medal contest, also won by Lundqvist and the Swedes.
The two teams have played 12 times in Olympic men’s hockey, with Sweden now holding a 7-2-3 advantage. Finland defeated Russia 3-1 in the Sochi quarterfinals to knock the host nation out of the tournament.
Lundqvist will be facing Rangers teammate Rick Nash of Canada in the final. If the U.S. had won last night, Lundqvist would have been opposing Rangers teammates Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh in the gold-medal contest.
“It’s going to be our toughest test in this tournament,” said Lundqvist, who has two shutouts in five games at Sochi. “It’s going to be a great challenge, and I’m looking forward to it.”