There was no doubt of the two most dominant teams in the Olympic women’s hockey tournament, as the United States and Canada outscored their opponents 86-4 in eight combined games.
But despite the offensive display shown by both teams earlier in the tournament, the two teams combined for just two goals in the gold-medal match Thursday - with one player getting both tallies.
Unfortunately for the U.S., that lone scorer was wearing a maple leaf sweater, and Canada won their third straight gold medal in the sport with a 2-0 win over the Americans. Marie-Philip Poulin’s two goals in a three-minute span in the first period held up through the game’s final 43 minutes as the difference between gold and silver.
Preserving the win was a tremendous effort by Canadian netminder Shannon Szabados, who stopped all 28 shots she faced to blank a U.S. team that was averaging better than 10 goals a game in the tournament. The Americans, who had never been shut out in Olympic play, were left visibly upset after falling without a single goal.
“Szabados played out of her mind,” U.S. forward Monique Lamoureux told the Associated Press afterwards. “It’s never fun to lose, especially in a championship game.”
Despite the talent level on both sides, Poulin and Szabados were the difference for Canada, who now continues an impressive 15-game Olympic win streak that dates back to their last loss that came in the 1998 gold-medal game to the U.S.
“It stings when expectations are high and you come up short,” U.S. coach Mark Johnson told reporters. “It hurts, but certainly I think we are better off than we were 3 years ago. They are coming home with a silver medal. That’s not a bad thing.”
The Americans’ potent power play had six chances - and two 5-on-3 chances - but failed to light the lamp once despite scoring 46 goals in their first four games.
Before the contest, the U.S. players had talked about wanting to spoil the Canadians’ chance to win gold on home ice, just as the Canadians had denied the Americans the opportunity to do so in Salt Lake in 2002. But their plans of being the rude houseguest were undone by a slow start and the sudden failure at their power play.
While the Americans were scoring at a 59 percent clip with the extra skater through their first four games, the power-play struggled mightily and cost the U.S. a chance to grab the top spot in the tournament. Instead, the U.S. settled for silver, earning their fourth medal in four Olympics, with just one gold medal to show for their success.
The U.S. started off with a golden chance to take the lead, getting three power plays in the middle of the first period - including a 5-on-3 advantage for :39 seconds - but the U.S. only could muster 7 shots in the first 20 minutes, with Canada getting the better chances and cashing in on them.
The bulk of the shots the U.S. put on Szabados were low-percentage shots from the blue line, and the Canadian netminder gobbled up two good U.S. scoring chances of the period to keep the high-scoring American team off the board.
After the U.S. failed to get on the board, Poulin put the hosts in front by wristing a shot past U.S. goalie Jessie Vetter’s glove and into the top corner of the net for a 1-0 Canadian lead with 6:05 to play.
Olympic veteran Julie Chu had a chance to pull the U.S. even shortly after, but she couldn’t finish a golden scoring chance right after Poulin’s first goal, and shot the puck over the crossbar from close in.
After a brief U.S. power-play was nullified by a penalty, Poulin then added her second of the period off the ensuing face-off, collecting the puck after winning the draw and firing the puck past Vetter to put the hosts up 2-0 with 3:10 left in the frame.
The Americans started out better in the second, and got another extended chance with the 5-on-3, but again couldn’t covert and remained two goals down. Likewise, Canada had three straight power plays to put the U.S. out of reach, but couldn’t get the third tally despite keeping the puck in the American zone the entire power play.
Still, despite finishing the period with a power-play, the U.S. couldn’t get one past Szabados, and remained down two with 20 minutes left to play.
As the time wore down, the U.S. increased the pressure on Szabados, but the Canadian goaltender was able to frustrate the American forwards, making some strong stops to earn the hosts the gold.
Despite the changes in their roster, Canada has thrived since, earning its third straight gold, and this time, a chance to celebrate on home ice.
And for the U.S., four more years to work and try and win gold in Sochi.
“When you give your whole life to something and you come up short, as a team, it’s just awful,” a tearful Angela Ruggiero told AP afterwards. “It’s a little different than playing on the men’s side. You really give your life to it. You make lots of sacrifices to win the gold medal.”