Benn goal pushes Canada to gold-medal game
Good thing too, because the Canadians haven't exactly lit up the score sheet in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Nor have they had to.
Carey Price made 31 saves and Jamie Benn's goal early in the second period was all Canada needed to beat the U.S. 1-0 in the semifinals at Bolshoy Ice Dome on Friday in what was a rematch of the gold-medal game from four years ago. The Canadians once again prevailed by one goal; only this time they didn't need overtime to do it, and there wasn't a medal on the line.
There will be Sunday, when Canada plays Sweden in the gold-medal game (7 a.m. ET, NBC, CBC), a matchup that features the two countries that have won the past three gold medals (Canada in 2002 and 2010, Sweden in 2006).
The U.S. will play Finland for the bronze medal on Saturday (10 a.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).
"You have to line up the moon and stars to win," Canada coach Mike Babcock said. "People don't believe that in Canada, but it's the facts. These teams are great. You have two great teams out there today, unbelievable talent, and the score is 1-0. The goalies are good. The game is tight. It's hard.
"You always feel fortunate when you get an opportunity to advance."
The Canadians earned their opportunity by playing the same style of hockey that got the Americans into the semifinals; only they played it better.
Their forwards were fiercely fast and relentless. Their defensemen always appeared to be in the right position. Canada was able to control the pace of the game and limit the quality chances against Price.
Canada only scored one goal Friday and has just 14 in five games, yet it will still carry a plus-11 goal-differential into the gold-medal game. The Canadians have allowed only three goals in the tournament.
"I think we've been good defensively the whole time," Babcock said. "It's hard to get real good players to be committed as our group is defensively, and yet we haven't scored. No one seems to care. It doesn't matter. You just want another opportunity."
On the other side, the Americans came into the game with 19 goals in four games, but they couldn't find any room in the middle of the ice Friday. They seemed to be on their heels for most of the game, trying to survive before Benn scored 1:41 into the second period.
They could never catch up. Canada wouldn't let them.
"They came at us with 20 guys [Friday night]," U.S. coach Dan Bylsma said. "They came at us with speed and for 60 minutes. That was a fast game. That was as fast a game as I think I've ever been a part of. There's lots of speed out there, it was up and down the ice. We weren't able to counter that. We weren't able to match that as much as we'd like."
The U.S. had chances, such as Phil Kessel's shot off the rush 30 seconds into the game, a shot that Price stopped with his pads. John Carlson joined the play late and fired hard shot through a screen 5:25 into the first period, but Price snatched it with his glove.
Max Pacioretty had an opportunity at the left side of the net off a pretty cross-slot pass from Patrick Kane, but Canada defended it well. T.J. Oshie had a shot squeeze through Price only to dribble wide of the net.
But those were the memorable chances, and there were only four of them. Worse yet, the Americans drew a blank on the power play, going 0-for-3, including two opportunities in the second period after Benn scored.
"We didn't have any energy," said U.S. defenseman Ryan Suter, who played a game-high 26:11. "We didn't have a forecheck. We weren't very good."
U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick was, but his 36 saves were only good enough to keep the Americans in the game. Benn and Jay Bouwmeester made the one play that made the difference.
It started in the right circle, where Benn used his backhand to thread a diagonal pass up to Bouwmeester, who was at the left point. Benn cut to the net as Bouwmeester wound up. David Backes came out to challenge the shot, only it wasn't a shot; it was a pass that went right to the tape of Benn's stick. The puck ricocheted off his blade and sailed past Quick on the glove side and into the net.
"Jay made a great pass – shot pass – and I found a way to get my stick on it," an understated Benn said.
With how the game played out, and how good the goaltending was, nobody was surprised that it took a deflection goal for one of these teams to reach the gold-medal game.
"There were better chances than the goal for both teams; they didn't go in," Babcock said. "That one went in. I thought our team got momentum at that time, and then forechecked harder and were on top of them more from that point on."
The challenge Sunday against Sweden will be much different. While the Americans played a hard, up-and-down, North American game on the big ice, the Swedes will try to use the big ice to spread the Canadians out, much like Finland was able to do against them in the preliminary round.
Canada controlled most of that game as well, and still had to get an overtime goal from Drew Doughty to win it.
One goal has been the difference in three of Canada's five wins here. If that proves to be the case once again on Sunday, it will be worth its weight in gold.
"We've had unbelievable opportunities and still haven't finished," Babcock said. "We're going to finish. We just hope we don't run out of time."
CAN 0 1 0 - 1
USA 0 0 0 - 0
Penalties - Suter USA (holding stick) 10:53, Marleau CAN (holding) 15:58
1. CAN, Benn (Bouwmeester) 1:41
Penalties - Getzlaf CAN (high sticking) 3:16, Kunitz CAN (slashing) 15:23
Penalties - Kessel USA (hooking) 9:56
SHOTS ON GOAL
CAN 16 12 9 - 37
USA 11 11 9 - 31
Goaltenders (saves-shots against) - CAN: Price (W, 31-31); USA: Quick (L, 36-37).
Power plays (goals-chances) - USA: 0-3; CAN: 0-2