A USA squad that the pundits hardly gave a chance at winning a medal — let alone a gold — will play for its country?s first gold in men?s hockey since 1980 after thrashing Finland 6-1 in the semi-final game.
The Americans exploded for six goals in the first 12:46 of regulation and never looked back against the 2006 silver medalists. USA will now play the winner of Friday?s Slovakia-Canada matchup — and if Canada, as expected, takes down the Slovaks, the Americans will have a chance to beat their Northern neighbors for the second time in this tournament.
More importantly, the USA will have an opportunity to seek revenge against Canada, which beat the USA for the gold on US soil at Salt Lake City in 2002.
With USA goaltender Ryan Miller and Finland netminder Miikka Kiprusoff entering Friday?s game as the two best goalies in the Olympics thus far, many — including this scribe — expected a low-scoring affair. Miller led all Olympic goalies in goals-against average (1.25) and Kiprusoff led in save percentage (.946). But as it turned out, Kiprusoff didn?t get the memo that this game was supposed to be a goalie duel and simply had a meltdown at the worse possible time, allowing four goals in the first 10:08 of play.
Kiprusoff would make only three saves on seven shots and pulled himself out of the game after the fourth goal, as Finland head coach Jukka Jalonen pulled a Vyacheslav Bykov and didn?t relieve his dumbfounded goalie to save him from further embarrassment.
Niklas Backstrom replaced Kiprusoff and didn?t fare much better at first, allowing two goals in 15 seconds, but he calmed down after that and didn?t allow another USA goal. Backstrom finished the game with 16 saves on 18 shots.
Bruins goalie Tim Thomas got some playing time in relief of Miller, coming in at 8:29 of the third period. Thomas accomplished his lifelong dream of playing in an Olympic game for Team USA, but unfortunately he allowed the lone Finland goal, a Antti Miettinen power-play strike that deflected off defenseman Jack Johnson with 5:14 remaining in the game.
In an explosive first period, USA netted the most goals it has scored in a game since 1964. The carnage began only 2:04 into the game, when the puck came flying in towards Kiprusoff, and with Phil Kessel coming in fast on him, the 2006 Vezina Trophy winner attempted to come out and clear the puck before Kessel could get to it. He succeeded, but unfortunately for him and the Finns, he cleared right to Ryan Malone, who rifled it into the open net behind Kiprusoff.
The scoring party was on for USA after that, as Kiprusoff never regained focus, misplaying the puck again on the next two goals he allowed. Zach Parise scored his third goal of the Olympics at 6:22, and defenseman Erik Johnson scored at 8:36. Patrick Kane lit the lamp at 10:08, chasing Kiprusoff from the game and then scoring on Backstrom at 12:31. Paul Stastny completed the onslaught 15 seconds later, and that was all she wrote for the Finns.
USA obviously must be commended for this statement game — and this team has to be looking scarier to Canadian fans, who have been wishing for a rematch since USA's 5-3 win over Canada last Sunday. But the Americans also must be recognized for their ability to protect that lead, and also protect each other. The coaching staff, led by Ron Wilson, did a splendid job of pulling back on ice time in the final period but not allowing players let up in terms of intensity. The Finns' game became a bit more chippy in the final two periods as they realized their destiny, and USA fought back with vigor and discipline.
This will surely be considered one of the more surprising runs in US Olympic history, but this team has proven to be more than just a Cinderella team or an underdog. The Americans made a loud statement to the world once again on Friday: They are for real, and it wouldn?t be a stretch to consider them a favorite heading into Sunday's gold-medal game.
Stars of the Game:
1. Zach Parise
2. Patrick Kane
3. Paul Stastny