Long road to gold: U.S. beats Canada to win Pool A in Olympic men's hockey

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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VANCOUVER - Too little, too late.

Down by one in the dying minutes, after a Sidney Crosby goal threw the home team a lifeline Sunday, Team Canada stormed the U.S. goal. But Ryan Miller stoned the Canadians and Ryan Kesler scored an empty-net goal to secure the 5-3 win for a young U.S. team that celebrated as if it had just won the Stanley Cup.

"We expected a tough game,' Crosby told CTV. "They got a few bounces there early and got into the game pretty quick. But we had our chances throughout the game.'

Coming after a narrow shootout win over the modest Swiss, Team Canada is testing the patience of a nation with high hockey expectations.

So what's the problem?

"I can't put my finger on it,' said defenceman Dan Boyle.

Miller was one obstacle. Canada outshot the U.S. 45-23.

"Ryan Miller had an outstanding game and played every bit as well as I've seen him during the season,' said U.S. coach Ron Wilson. "He makes four, five big saves a game and he did that tonight.'

Canada now faces a must-win playoff against Germany to advance to the quarterfinals.

"I hate to say it, but it might be what we need,' Brodeur said of the playoff.

The big question is whether Brodeur will start in goal Tuesday. The Devils star looked a bit shaky against the U.S. and was also the victim of a couple bad bounces, perhaps opening the door for Roberto Luongo to assume the No. 1 job.

"I'll watch the game again here tonight without emotion and make a decision on that,' said Canadian coach Mike Babcock.

Only victories will be good enough from here for Canada, with four straight wins needed to earn the gold medal an entire country is yearning for.

Brian Rafalski scored two goals and Miller made 42 saves as the Americans - wearing the throwback jerseys they wore at the 1960 Games when they last beat the Canadians in Olympic play - came out on top of a wildly entertaining hockey game.

Chris Drury, and Jamie Langenbrunner had the other goals for the U.S. while Eric Staal, Dany Heatley also scored for Canada.

The young American team features just three players with past Olympic experience and has embraced the underdog role here, hoping to summon the spirit of the 1960 and 1980 teams that delivered unlikely golds in this tournament.

They'll need Miller to continue delivering performances like this one, where he snared a Jarome Iginla shot while on his knees as the Canadians tried everything they could to get back in it.

The U.S. players mobbed Kesler behind the goal after he secured the win, lunging to knock the puck into an empty Canadian goal with 44.7 seconds left.

The pre-game anticipation for the U.S.-Canada matchup was sky-high, with scalpers selling tickets at outrageous prices and downtown Vancouver literally at a standstill while people watched on screens around the city.

Canada Hockey Place was once again draped in red and white by a flag-waving sellout crowd that screamed until it was hoarse. The roar started well before the puck drop when gold medal moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau was interviewed on the scoreboard and continued even after the U.S. got on the board just 41 seconds into the game.

That goal came from Rafalski after Brodeur had failed to clear the puck from his team's end. The U.S. defenceman beat him with a screen shot that glanced off Crosby's stick and in.

Brodeur also looked shaky when the Americans went ahead 2-1. Just 22 seconds after Staal had tied the game for Canada, Rafalski skated in from the point and beat Brodeur with a shot along the ice at 9:15 of the first period.

The Canadian team started to reclaim control of the play shortly after, dominating puck possession and generating all kinds of chances on Miller. The forwards showed more flow than they were able to generate three days earlier against Switzerland.

Heatley evened the score with his fourth goal of the Olympic tournament, slamming home the rebound off a Jonathan Toews shot at 3:32 of the second period. He punched the air in celebration while the red-and-white mass celebrated in the stands.

Canada looked ready to put it in overdrive. The team's skill was on full display as the big forwards controlled the puck for long stretches and used their body on the smaller American players.

But Miller was able to weather the storm and his teammates responded with a flurry of chances on Brodeur, who appeared to get rattled by a bump from David Backes just before Drury made it 3-2. The Canadian goalie was flailing around as Drury found a loose puck at 16:46 of the second period.

American GM Brian Burke has been talking about the pressure on the Canadian team for months and the guys wearing the Maple Leaf must have felt it most while trying to kill three successive penalties in the third period. Langenbrunner struck on the last opportunity, tipping a Rafalski shot at 7:09 to make it 4-2.

That was all the offence his team would need as Miller managed to shut the door once Crosby had scored to get Canada within a goal.

Notes: Wayne Gretzky, Yvan Cournoyer, Joe Sakic, Pat Quinn and Craig MacTavish were among those in attendance ... Skeleton gold medallist Jon Montgomery led a ``Go Canada Go!' chant during the second intermission ... Two different women carried signs asking Crosby to marry them ... Canada entered with a 10-2-3 record against the U.S. at the Olympics, outscoring them 57-32 ... The game featured five members from both the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks ... The U.S. is the last country to win a gold medal in Olympic men's hockey on home ice, having done it at the 1980 Lake Placid Games.

Organizations: Team Canada, CTV, San Jose Sharks

Geographic location: U.S., Canada, VANCOUVER Germany Switzerland Maple Leaf Lake Placid Games

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