Canada leapt to a 3-0 lead against a tough Slovakian team and managed to squeak out a 3-2 win, sealing a rematch against team USA for the Gold. The home team held off a furious blitz from the Slovakians in the third period to earn a shot at regaining Olympic glory.
Despite being lauded as the strongest team heading into the tournament, the Canadians haven't exactly had an easy time in Vancouver. First it was a disappointing shoot-out win to Switzerland, a team they far outmatched in terms of talent. That was followed by an unexpected loss to the United States, a team that was criticized for a perceived lack of offense and was figured to be out of the medal picture.
However, team Canada notched two goals midway through the first period to build a cushion against a Slovakian club that has performed above potential in this tournament. The Slovakians surprised the highly touted Russian team in their second contest, beating them 2-1. They were unable to tally until midway through the final frame in Friday's game
Edmonton Oiler Lubomir Visnovsky and his former teammate Los Angeles King Michal Handzus both scored in the third period to make it a close match right up until the end. Canadian net-minder Roberto Luongo had his hands full with the Slovakians throwing 12 pucks on net in the third period. Luongo is undefeated in these Olympic Games, winning the Canadians first of the tourney as well as all of his tilts after supplanting a shaky Martin Brodeur.
The win sets up a much anticipated match-up against team USA, their opponent from the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. The main difference this time is age, with this United States club being much younger. The young guns bested the uber-talented Canadian squad in their final match of the round robin by a score of 5-2, with Ryan Kesler scoring the empty-netter after guaranteeing an American victory against their northern foes.
Team USA is led by Zach Parise and Brian Rafalski offensively, but it is Ryan Miller that deserves most credit for their success. Miller brings a perfect record into the Gold Medal game along with a stellar save percentage. You don't have to look far for heroes on the Canadian roster. Luongo has shone in net, but Canada has 8 players with a point per game or more clip in their 6 games so far.
Talent aside, it will be a workman-like attitude the Canadians need to bring to the rink on Sunday as talent alone wasn't enough to beat a feisty American squad last weekend. The Canadians get their chance for revenge on Sunday at 12:15 pm PT. Finland will face Slovakia at 7 pm PT on Saturday for the Bronze.
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney