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U.S. rolls past Finland into gold-medal game

- The Washington Times - Friday, February 26, 2010

Facing a tough defensive club with a trip to the gold-medal game on the line Friday afternoon, the U.S. men's hockey team delivered a dominating performance to emphatically dismantle Finland and secure at least a silver medal in the tournament.

The Finns, who had only allowed four goals in four games heading into the semifinal, were burned six times in the first 13 minutes by the Americans, who turned what appeared to be a tight matchup into a 6-1 U.S. win.

The U.S. now advances to face Canada in the gold-medal game on Sunday afternoon at Canada Hockey Place, while the embarrassed Finns will look to salvage a bronze Saturday against Slovakia.

The Americans, who came into the tournament as a real dark horse with a young, inexperienced roster in terms of international play, are now the only unbeaten team left standing after impressive wins against the pre-tournament favorite Canada and now Finland.

AP INTERACTIVE: 2010 Winter Olympic Games

The Americans also have now outscored their two opponents in the medal round by an 8-1 margin. For the tournament, the team is now 5-0, and outscored opponents by a 22-6 total margin in those wins.

With this month being the 50-year anniversary of the 1960 "Forgotten Miracle" which saw the U.S. go unbeaten for its first gold medal in men's hockey in Squaw Valley, Calif., as well as the 30-year anniversary of 1980's "Miracle on Ice," which featured a dramatic upset of the Soviet Union en route to the program's second gold in Lake Placid, N.Y., the 2010 U.S. men's hockey team can pull themselves into that rare company with just one more victory in Vancouver.

The U.S. started the deluge off thanks to a gift goal from Finnish starting goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, who, after being pressured by a charging Phil Kessel, sent an ill-advised pass attempt right to U.S. forward Ryan Malone. With the Flames' netminder well out of the net, Malone made no mistake, firing it into the wide-open net just 2:04 into the contest.

Finland then quickly dug themselves a much bigger hole with a pair of penalties.

Janne Niskala took an interference penalty just under six minutes into the contest, and Zach Parise struck quickly with the man-advantage. The Devils' star scored his third goal of the medal round just under the crossbar, as he roofed a pass from Paul Stastny and a 2-0 U.S. lead with just 6:22 elapsed in the contest.

The Finns then took another penalty just :40 after Parise's goal, and paid the price again as Toni Lydman's boarding infraction put Finland in an even bigger hole.

With the extra man, Eric Johnson was able to collect a loose puck off a rebound of a Joel Pavelski shot and while Kiprusoff got a piece of the drive, he couldn't stop it completely for a 3-0 edge with just 8:36 gone.

But the U.S. wasn't done, as Patrick Kane collected a rebound of his own shot, and deposited the puck past Kiprusoff for a 4-0 edge with 10:08 gone.

After allowing four goals on seven shots, Kiprusoff quickly decided to pull himself out of the contest, but the damage was done to the Finns' hopes of their first gold.

"If you let in four goals in the first period, it's the right call to make," Kiprusoff told the Associated Press afterwards.

The Americans weren't done lighting the lamp, however, as they struck twice on replacement netminder Nicklas Backstrom.

Kane scored his second goal just 2:23 after his first, taking a feed from Brian Rafalski for a 5-0 lead and his third goal of the tournament.

Just :15 after Kane's strike, Stastny deposited the puck past replacement goalie Nicklas Backstrom for a 6-0 lead with just 12:48 of time elapsed.

"It was a crazy 12 minutes," Kane told reporters. "I've never been a part of something like that. It seemed like we were scoring every shift."

The six-goal period was the first time since 1964 that a U.S. team had scored that many times in a frame. Defensively, they only allowed four shots to a shell-shocked Finnish club, who produced too few good scoring opportunities.

With the commanding lead, the Americans quieted a pro-Canadian crowd who had hoped to see the elimination of the only team that knocked off the hosts in the preliminary round. The game's tempo also slowed considerably after the quick start, with the U.S. happy to just keep the Finns from getting on the board and secure their appearance into the gold-medal game without incident.

There were only 16 shots combined by the two teams in the middle frame - just seven by the Finns, who were trailing by six goals - and the period was notable only by NHL agitator Jarko Ruutu earning a 10-minute misconduct for attempting to sit on Miller following a save.

With the game well in hand, Miller was lifted with 11:31 left in regulation to give Bruins netminder Tim Thomas his first action of the tournament. Miller, who stopped all 19 Finnish shots he saw, will carry a shutout streak of 114:40 into the gold-medal game, having been last beaten by Sidney Crosby late in the U.S.'s 5-3 win over Canada Sunday.

The last period wasn't without some incident, as Bobby Ryan was hit in the side by a puck and was holding an ice pack to the side of his head on the bench.

Thomas also allowed the only Finnish goal of the contest, a shot by Antti Miettinen that went into the top corner of the net and put the Finns on the board with 5:14 left in regulation and broke the U.S. shutout string of 117:55 over three contests.

The win also sets up a revenge game on Sunday with Canada beating Slovakia 3-2 to advance to the final.

Two members of the current U.S. team, Chris Drury and Brian Rafalski, were part of the 2002 team that lost the gold-medal game to the Canadians on home ice in Salt Lake City. Of course, the entire Canadian team was just beaten by the U.S. five days ago, and certainly would like to return the favor to the Americans in securing the country's second gold in eight years with a win over their biggest rivals.

And despite their success, the Americans know they have one more win before they reach the team's goal of a gold medal.

"We haven't won anything yet," Parise told the AP afterwards. "We're getting better and that'd the most important and rewarding thing."