Canada, U.S. clash offered no insight into presumed gold-medal final

Canadians 2-1 victory over Americans was a momentum builder — nothing more

By Mike Brophy, CBC Sports

It was exactly what you'd expect from the top two women's hockey teams in the world; a gut wrenching nail-biter.

From start to finish, it was a tight encounter between two bitter rivals that ultimately offered no insight as to which of the two super powers might have an edge in the expected gold-medal showdown on Feb. 22.

Canada beat the United States 2-1 to conclude the preliminary round of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games 3-0 and grab first place in Group A. The United States is 2-1. Canada, the No. 2 ranked team in the world behind the United States, has now won 23 straight games in Olympic competition.

Canada will surely take comfort knowing it has beaten Team USA in six straight games. The Americans, though, will surely try to build off the fact they outshot Team Canada 45-23. Not only that, if one thinks back to 2014, the United States won the last four meetings with Canada prior to the Sochi Olympics, but Canada won the gold medal. So the fact Canada is in the driver's seat might not mean much.

Momentum is nice, but it is not the be-all and end-all.

Both teams advance to the semifinals on Monday and will continue to prepare for what they assume is the eventual ultimate showdown.

Meghan Agosta and rookie Sarah Nurse, who netted the game winner, scored for Canada with Natalie Spooner, Brianne Jenner and Jocelyne Larocque drawing assists. Kendall Coyne scored for the United States from Brianna Decker.

Team USA coach Robb Stauber hinted he'd use a third goalie in three games, Alex Rigby, but instead opted for Maddie Rooney, who played when the United States beat Finland 3-1 in their opening game of the tournament.

Lacasse spectacular in net

Canada opted for Genevieve Lacasse, who made her Olympic debut. She was spectacular as Canada was outshot 18-6 in the second period and 13-5 in the third.

Canada appeared shaky and nervous in the first 10 minutes, often finding itself unable to get the puck out of its own zone, and making a few questionable/horrible line changes. One was so bad it allowed Team USA's Hilary Knight to break in alone at 4:07. Fortunately for Canada, Lacasse stopped the breakaway attempt.

Canada managed to get a puck behind Rooney at 16:45 when Brigette Lacquette snapped home a backhander from the slot through a crowd. However, Canada's Melodie Daoust and Marie-Philip Poulin were caught in the paint and Canada was nailed for a crease violation.

Canada opened the scoring at 7:18 with a power-play goal by Agosta; her second of this Olympics. A left winger, Agosta was assigned a point position on the power play and with the puck down low in the American zone, she saw an opportunity to slide down low into the slot. That enable Spooner to hit her with a perfect behind-the-back pass that Agosta snapped home.

Nurse made it 2-0 for Canada with her first Olympic goal and it was a thing of beauty. Breaking in on the left side on a 3-on-2, Nurse made it seem like she was going to pass, but instead snapped a high shot to the short side that beat Rooney over her right shoulder.

"I have to give a lot of credit to my linemates," Nurse said following the second period. "We try to play a structured game and I saw one of them drive and the other one hang a little high so I just kind of took a chance with the shot on net and so we're extremely happy about it."

VIDEO | Watch Sarah Nurse's game-winning goal

The Americans got a great opportunity to pull within one goal at 16:08 when Jocelyne Lamoureaux-Davidson was awarded a penalty shot. With a scramble in front of the Canadian net, Canada's Haley Irwin made a great skate save on a shot that eluded Lacasse. However, Irwin used her glove to move the puck and after a review of the play, Team USA was awarded the penalty shot.

Lamoureaux-Davidson moved in slowly and made it appear as though she was going to do a fancy between-the-legs shot. At the last second Lamoureaux-Davidson opted to go with a backhander that Lacasse stopped easily.

It was the first penalty shot Canada has ever faced in Olympic competition.

Team USA went to the dressing room after two periods outshooting Canada 32-18, but trailing 2-0.

Whatever was said behind locked doors had a positive result for Team USA which finally scored 23 seconds into the third period. Speedy Kendall Coyne took a pass on the fly, split Team Canada defenders Laura Fortino and Renata Fast and fired home a shot between the legs of Lacasse.

Canada appeared to take a 3-1 lead at 10:52 of the third period when Spooner blew past the U.S. defenders off the right wing and then, from behind the net, threw a pass to Irwin in front. The puck went off Irwin's skate and into the net. The call on the ice was a goal, but after review it was ruled Irwin kicked the puck in with her left skate.

Team USA pulled Rooney late in the game and pressed hard to score, but came up short. The game ended with a mad scramble in the Canadian goal crease followed by a lot of pushing and shoving — a hint of things to come.