For the second straight Winter Olympics, the United States’ gold medal dreams were crushed by the rival Canadians.
The U.S. lost Friday’s semifinal 1-0 as the tournament’s highest-scoring offense was completely shut down by a stingy Canadian defense and goaltender Carey Price. Up next for the Americans is a matchup with Finland in the bronze medal game Saturday, and it’s not an easy challenge.
The Finns play a structured defensive system that includes trap-style hockey with a top-tier netminder — Tuukka Rask, Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi — between the pipes. Finland also allowed a combined five goals in three games against Canada, Russia and Sweden.
For the United States to leave Russia with a medal, its offense needs to wake up.
United States — Patrick Kane
The Blackhawks winger was one of the few U.S. players consistently creating scoring chances and putting pressure on Canadian defensemen in the semifinals. Kane tallied three shots and set up many others with slick passing and good puck movement in the attacking zone.
Kane hasn’t played poorly in Sochi, but his lack of goal scoring (zero goals in five games) is a concern. He’s one of the few elite forwards on this roster capable of taking over a game with his skill and speed. Team USA needs a strong performance from Kane to generate enough offense to beat Finland.
Finland — Teemu Selanne
The “Finnish Flash” is playing in his final Olympic game and will be highly motivated to end his international career with another medal. Selanne has tallied four points (two goals, two assists) through five games and has formed a great duo with young winger Mikael Granlund, who leads the team with five points. As a player receiving top-line minutes and ice time on the power play, expect Selanne to play a major factor in this game.
Top Storyline — Will Team USA be able to create offense in the middle of the ice?
Canada did a tremendous job clogging up the middle of the ice and forcing the U.S. to the outside. This resulted in a lot of shots from near the boards that Price was able to see and stop with ease. Finland’s defensemen are capable of executing the same gameplan, and they did it against Canada in the preliminary round (lost 2-1 in overtime).
The Americans played poorly in their own end in the semifinals, and their inability to win puck battles, get possession of the puck and start the breakout with quick passes was a major issue. This could be a problem Saturday against a Finland team that aggressively forechecks and is relentless along the boards. Canada took away the Americans’ time and space with the puck with an intense checking game, and expect Finland to do the same.
We could also see this sort of defense on the blue line from Finland:
Jonathan Quick was outstanding in the semifinal against Canada. He allowed one goal (a deflection when screened) and made 36 saves on 37 shots. He also stood tall on the penalty kill and helped the U.S. overcome two power plays. Quick has given the United States a chance to win every game in Sochi and there’s nothing to suggest he won’t Saturday against Finland. He doesn’t get rattled and rarely makes mistakes with rebounds and positioning.
Tuukka Rask was unable to play in the semifinals because of the flu, which forced Kari Lehtonen into the lineup. He stopped 23 of 25 shots and helped Finland go 3-for-3 on the penalty kill. Lehtonen played well, but Rask gives the Finns a better chance to win. If he’s healthy, expect the Bruins netminder to start. Rask was phenomenal in the quarterfinals with 37 saves (14 in the third period) and one goal against versus a high-powered Russian offense.
Finland is aiming for its third straight Olympic medal and second consecutive bronze. If Rask is able to play, expect the Finns to win a close game. Just like Canada, Finland has a mobile group of defensemen who move the puck quickly in their own end to evade the forecheck. It’s going to be tough for Team USA to score against a Finnish blue line that blocks shots, plays physical and stays out of the penalty box.
The United States will leave Sochi without a medal.
Pick: Finland wins 2-1
Photo via Twitter/@DaleEArnold