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The Vancouver Games have been dominated by the United States thus far, and that superior play carried over into the hockey rink Sunday night, as the highly anticipated battle of North America was finally staged at Canada Hockey Place: the heavily favored hosts from Canada, taking on the youthful, miracle-seeking United States.
Led by a pair of goals from red hot Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski and 42 saves from Buffalo’s Ryan Miller, the Americans found a way to top the Leafed Ones, 5-3, on their own home turf, earning the U.S. a bye to the quarterfinal round, and potentially the top seed as well, depending on the outcome of the Finland-Sweden matchup that rounds out pool play action. Canada on the other hand, is left with a tougher path to the medal round, having to earn their way into the quarterfinals on Tuesday, when they’ll likely face Germany in the preliminary round.
The U.S. team was able to get on the board in the opening minute against their neighbors to the north, as former Devil Rafalski put one past his former teammate Martin Brodeur, to give the Americans an early 1-0 lead. Hurricanes star forward Eric Staal evened the score at one, but Rafalski’s second goal of the period gave the U.S. a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes, despite being outshot 19-6 in the opening period. Rafalski, who scored the team’s last two goals in Thursday’s 6-1 rout of Norway, had a four-goal team streak going.
The Canadians knotted the game up at two early in the second when Sharks winger Dany Heatley tucked the puck past Miller. Former Boston University standout Chris Drury gave the U.S. another one-goal advantage, finding daylight and lighting the lamp past Brodeur for a 3-2 lead the Americans t00k into the second intermission.
U.S. captain Jamie Langenbrunner beat his current New Jersey teammate seven minutes into the third period, netting a power play goal for the Americans and to give them a seemingly comfortable two-goal lead. Canada stormed back, with 22-year-old hot shot Sidney Crosby tipping one in to get his team back within one. The final minutes were filled with flurries of scoring chances for the host squad, as Canada’s forwards peppered pucks at Ryan Miller at a breakneck pace. Miller was able to stand tall though, and with a great hustle play by Ryan Kesler on an empty-net goal, the U.S. victory was sealed.
The win marked the first time since the 1960 games that the U.S. topped Canada in Olympic play. With an undefeated 3-0 mark in pool play, the Americans have put themselves in a great position to succeed.
Could the 30th anniversary of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team be celebrated with another gold medal ice hockey team from the States? It’s going to be a fun week, filled with high intensity hockey from the world’s very best, before we find out.