Monday, February 22, 2010

USA Hockey Stuns Canada; Grabs #1 Overall Seed

The US Olympic hockey team scored a surprising 5-3 victory over Canada on Sunday night, capping round robin play with a 3-0 record and grabbing the #1 overall seed in this week's medal round.

Defenseman Brian Rafalski (U. of Wisconsin, Detroit Red Wings) scored the Americans' first two goals and assisted on another. Fellow defender Ryan Suter (U. of Wisconsin, Nashville Predators) set up two goals. However, the story was Ryan Miller (Michigan State, Buffalo Sabres). The goaltender kicked away 42 of 45 shots to record his third win of the tournament. He was clearly the star of the game.

The US silenced the raucous crowd with Rafalski's first goal just :41 into the game to give the Americans an early lead. Eric Staal (Carolina Hurricanes) tied the score, but then Rafalski found the back of the net again to give the US a 2-1 lead after the first period.

Dany Heatley (U. of Wisconsin, San Jose Sharks) tied the score at 2 with a rebound goal 3:32 into the second period and the score stayed that way for the next 13 minutes. However, Chris Drury (Boston U, New York Rangers), found the back of the net to give the US a lead it would not relinquish.

Team captain Jamie Langenbrunner (New Jersey Devils) stunned the Vancouver crowd with a power play tally just over seven minutes into the third frame to give the US a 4-2 lead. Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins) made things interesting with his nifty goal with 3:09 remaining in the game, but the US's Ryan Kesler (Toronto Maple Leafs) scored into an open net to create the final margin of victory.

Miller was absolutely fantastic in the game, completely dominating play and out-playing Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils) on the other end.

I had written previously that the only chance the US had at an Olympic medal was if Miller stood on his head in a big game, and he certainly did so on Sunday. In the single-elimination medal round, he'll likely have to do the same a few more times, but proved to everyone on Sunday that he was capable of doing so.

With the top seed in the medal round, the US will get a bye and will face the winner of Tuesday's Switzerland/Belarus play-in game on Wednesday afternoon. Canada dug themselves into a huge hole with the loss on Sunday. The Canucks now have to play on Tuesday against Germany for the right to move on in the medal round, and face a matchup with third-seeded Russia should they win their play-in game. Pressure is intense on the Canadians, who barely survived against Switzerland earlier in the week, winning in a shootout.

The US has surprised many with its play in the first three games of the Vancouver Olympics. As much as the words "miracle" and "biggest win since 1980" will be uttered over the next few days, keep in mind that this team has won absolutely nothing yet an still faces an uphill battle to medal, given the strengths of the teams still alive. However, with its victory on Sunday, the US proved that the young team is talented enough to beat the best in the world and is a dangerous team heading into the medal round.

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