SOCHI, Russia - Another golden opportunity awaits Team Canada.
Four years after winning gold on home ice in Vancouver, the Canadians will get a chance to make it two in a row Sunday against Sweden after beating the United States 1-0 in the Olympic semifinals Friday at Bolshoy Ice Dome.
This time, though, it was made possible by a few players who weren't around in 2010, namely Jamie Benn and Carey Price. Benn scored for Canada on a pretty pass from fellow newcomer Jay Bouwmeester, and Price—chosen by coach Mike Babcock to start over Vancouver golden goalie Roberto Luongo—had 31 saves to make it stand up.
Though it didn't show up on the scoresheet, Sidney Crosby was flying up and down the ice, creating chances seemingly at will. The captain still doesn't have a goal in this tournament, but along with the rest of his teammates he has raised his level of play just in time to play Sweden for the gold medal on Sunday.
The United States will play for the bronze Saturday against Finland, which lost to the Swedes 2-1 in the other semifinal.
Guaranteed either a gold or silver, this is the first time Canada has won a medal in an Olympics held outside North America since NHL players began participating in 1998.
Canada and the U.S. traded chances throughout the first period. Just 90 seconds in, Crosby forced a turnover that led to a quality opportunity for Patrice Bergeron in front.
More than five minutes in, Phil Kessel patiently waited for John Carlson to cross the blue-line and get a one-timer off that Price snagged with his glove. Not long after that, Crosby created a chance for Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Quick made a big save on Bergeron. Quick finished with 36 saves.
It took until early in the second period for Canada to get on the board, thanks to a heads-up play from Bouwmeester. The smooth-skating defenceman waited it out with the puck above the left face-off circle, allowing Benn to find open space between Brooks Orpik and Carlson, playing together for the first time at these Olympics because of a hand injury to Paul Martin.
A perfect sliding pass across the ice from Bouwmeester hit Benn's stick right on the tape and deflected past Quick at the 1:41 mark of the second.
At that point, Canada tilted the ice and spent much of the period hemming the Americans in their own end. The result was more brilliance from Quick, who had to slide post-to-post to rob Benn and oozed confidence.
The same came from Price on the other end, as he didn't flash his glove hand as much as calmly lift it to catch the puck with ease.
Canada's victory came a day after the women's team staged an improbable late comeback to beat the United States for its fourth straight gold medal. Babcock and his players said that victory taught them that "you don't give in."
Of course the way Team Canada got to the gold-medal game was very different. It hasn't trailed for even one second at these Olympics.
That didn't stop the women from trying to use their experience as motivation. Alternate captain Hayley Wickenheiser, starting goalie Shannon Szabados and forward Brianne Jenner were responsible for a letter posted in the men's locker-room that read: "Tonight is yours. Own the moment. We are proof that every minute matters. The podium is reserved for the brave. Earn every inch, dictate the pace. Go get em! From the girls! :)"
The men are one win away from giving Canada double gold in hockey for the third time in the past four Olympics.
Friday night's game was skated almost at the blistering pace of the one played Feb. 28, 2010, that Canada won 3-2 on Crosby's unforgettable overtime goal.
Some of Canada's best players in the Olympic rematch were watching from home four years ago. In addition to Bouwmeester, Benn and Price, Jeff Carter looked like he was playing in another gear and defenceman Alex Pietrangelo and Marc-Edouard Vlasic quietly controlled the game.
NOTES—Canada scratched defenceman P.K Subban on defence and the injured John Tavares at forward. Tavares, who suffered a tournament- and season-ending left knee injury against Latvia, will remain with the team until after the Olympics. Matt Duchene filled his spot in the lineup. ... Russian star Alex Ovechkin was in attendance, sitting at centre ice on the suite level of Bolshoy Ice Dome. Ovechkin did not take the first charter flight back to North America after his father underwent heart surgery. He tweeted Friday night: "Thanks to all for support. My dad going to be good and he see you all again." ... Even though Russia was eliminated in the quarters, 11,172 fans filled the arena for the all-North American semifinal.