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THN at the Olympics: Kiprusoff gaffe opens opportunity for 30-year miracle

Ryan Malone was the recipient of Miikka Kiprusoff's blunder in the first period, opening the scoring for the USA.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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Ryan Malone was the recipient of Miikka Kiprusoff's blunder in the first period, opening the scoring for the USA. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

VANCOUVER – The traditional gift for a 30th anniversary is pearl, but the Americans are chasing gold thanks in large part to a gift they received from Miikka Kiprusoff.

Thirty years after the Miracle on Ice, the Americans have advanced to the gold medal game and couldn’t have imagined the game that would get them there would be this easy. The deluge began at 2:04 of the first period when Kiprusoff left his net and put a tape-to-tape pass on Ryan Malone’s stick. Just more than 10 minutes later, the score was 6-0 in favor of the Americans, meaning they probably could have played the rest of the game with their sticks upside down and still won.

Kiprusoff was ultimately pulled after four goals in the 6-1 defeat, but has a chance to redeem himself in the bronze medal game Saturday. Despite having Niklas Backstrom and 2006 Olympic hero Antero Niittymaki at his disposal, Finnish coach Jukka Jalonen has declared Kiprusoff to be his starter in the game for third place.

In reality, Kiprusoff wasn’t very good, but it might not have made much of a difference. The Americans came into this tournament wearing the underdog tag with pride, but it’s quite clear this is a cohesive unit of players riding a wave of success. Even if Kiprusoff had been sharp, there’s probably little chance Finland would have advanced to the championship game.

The first period deluge was the difference in the game and both teams pretty much stopped playing after that. USA coach Ron Wilson actually had some compassion for his counterpart behind the Finnish bench.

“I would have been happy to come out of the period with a 1-0 lead, but then it was two, three, four…I didn’t know when it was going to end,” Wilson said. “I sympathize with Jukka because the last couple of years I’ve kind of been on the receiving end of that. Not to six, but being down 3-0 or 4-0 in the first 10 minutes of the game sometimes happens and you feel helpless as a coach when the air is let out of the balloon that quickly.”

Aside from giving the Americans some quality target practice, the game was one that allowed Patrick Kane to find his offensive stride in time for the gold medal game. Kane had the fourth and fifth goals and Paul Stastny, who had also been fairly unproductive going into the game, had a goal and an assist.

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Like Canada going into its semifinal game against Slovakia, the Americans have improved with every game and will be difficult to beat for the gold medal. The Americans have yet to lose in this tournament and are full marks for each of their victories.

“I really think this was our best game of the Olympics,” said goalie Ryan Miller, who didn’t have to be a major factor for a change. “We took our foot off the gas in the second period, but when we play the way we’re capable of playing, we’re a tough team to hang with.”

Finland still has an opportunity to do something special here. Should they win the bronze medal Saturday it would give them a total of three medals – along with bronze in 1998 and silver in 2006 – in the four Olympics in which NHL players have participated. No matter which team wins the gold, no other country can claim that kind of success.

And it is all the more impressive considering how tiny Finland is and the kind of disadvantages they face in terms of depth of talent as compared to other countries.

Whether Finland takes the bronze or not will depend on whether Kiprusoff responds to the semifinal by falling apart or coming back with a vengeance.

Ken Campbell is in Vancouver covering the Olympic hockey tournaments for THN.com. Read his other reports HERE.

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