Analysis No surprises: Canada-U.S. women's Olympic hockey final was inevitable

Team Canada looking to score 5th-straight gold medal

By Mike Brophy, CBC Sports

Surprise, surprise.

It will be Canada versus the United States in the gold-medal game of Olympic women's hockey on Thursday in Pyeongchang, South Korea (Wednesday at 11 p.m. ET in Canada).

Canada earned the right to play for its fifth-consecutive gold medal with a 5-0 win against the Olympic Athletes from Russia in the semifinal. The U.S. defeated Finland 5-0 in the other semifinal.

It was Canada's 24th-straight win in Olympic competition. Jennifer Wakefield paced Canada with two goals with singles going to captain Marie-Philip Poulin, Emily Clark and Rebecca Johnston.

Canada played three goalies in the preliminary round, but opted to start veteran Shannon Szabados against OAR. Szabados was in goal for each of Canada's past two Olympic gold-medal victories, in 2010 in Vancouver and 2014 in Sochi, and rose to the occasion with her fourth shutout in eight Olympic starts. She has faced injuries this season and had only started nine games since September.

Russia opted for 19-year-old Valeria Tarakanova, the six-foot, 200-pounder who started once in the preliminary round and was pulled after allowing four goals.

Canada got on the board early thanks to the nifty play of Natalie Spooner. Canada's big power forward dug the puck out of a crowd in the corner in the Russian zone and headed behind the net. It looked like she might attempt a wrap-a-round, but instead Spooner slipped the puck out the short side to Wakefield in front and the Pickering, Ont. native slipped a shot past Tarakanova for her first point of the Olympics.

Russia came close to tying the score at 12:07 when Szabados made a pad save and then lost the puck. It bounced to Yelena Dergachyova who had an open net, but fumbled the puck and fed it back to the Canadian goaltender.

Canada, which out-shot OAR 11-6 in the first period, was unable to build on its quick start as the Russians were relentless in their checking and the 1-0 scoreline remained unchanged heading into the second period. Canada was 0-for-2 on the power play.

Daoust dangles

Canada took a 2-0 lead at 3:10 of the second period when Poulin scored her second goal of the tournament. Daoust, arguably Canada's best player through the preliminary round with three goals and four points in three games, put on a stick-handling clinic in the Russian zone before slipping a perfect pass to Poulin in the high slot. Poulin lifted a backhander over the glove of Tarakanova.

Canada owned the puck through the rest of the period, out-shooting OAR 14-4, but produced no top quality scoring chances.

Canada put a happy face on its effort despite its inability to score against a vastly inferior team after 40 minutes.

"I think we're a team where, when we don't have our best start, we're pretty composed and we look how to get better," Canadian forward Brianne Jenner said. "I was happy with the way we came out in the second period, but I think there are some things we can clean up. We're where we want to be right now in this game."

Quick strikes put game out of reach

Canada came out much stronger in the third period and doubled its lead to 4-0 with two goals in 31 seconds; Wakefield netting her second of the game at 1:59 and Clark scoring her first of the Games at 2:30. The Russian changed goaltenders bringing Nadezhda Alexandrova into the game to replace Tarakanova.

Russia's frustration showed its face in the final two minutes when Yevgenia Dyupina picked up a double minor for hitting Szabados, who had wandered behind the goal to play the puck.

Wakefield, who continues to establish herself as a go-to offensive weapon for Team Canada, gave praise to her  team's nine rookies who have made an impact in helping Canada to a 4-0 record.

"It's a special group of girls," Wakefield said of the entire team. "It was a special group in 2014 and we're looking to build on that. Our rookies have really come to play in this tournament so we're really excited for the final. I feel like they have been in big games, whether it's the World Championship or college – a lot of them won NCAA championships. They're playing phenomenal."

Wakefield said Canada will continue to work on creating more scoring chances during practice leading up to the gold-medal game.