Canada holds off Slovakia to earn berth for gold

Will face U.S. on Sunday

By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency


Canada's Jonathan Toews and Mike Richards congratulate goalie Roberto Luongo after beating Slovakia in the men's hockey semifinal at the Vancouver Olympics Friday, Feb. 26, 2010. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY)

VANCOUVER — One more win.

That is the simplicity of it now for both Canada and the USA, on a collision course which will have them meet in the gold-medal game in Olympic hockey Sunday afternoon.

Canada beat Slovakia 3-2 Friday night at GM Place in the sudden-death semifinal in a game that turned out to be tight at the end. It sets up a rematch of their golden meeting with the USA in Salt Lake eight years ago, a game won by Canada for its first Olympic hockey championship in 50 years.

The Americans, who haven’t won gold since the 1980 Miracle on Ice, will be in the position of being the home team on foreign ice on the strength of their better record in the preliminary round, where they went undefeated, including a 5-3 win over Canada last Sunday.

The Americans might be the home team and have last change, but they will be the enemy in the red cauldron that will be GM Place.

The Canadians are a much different team now than the one the Americans beat last Sunday, though you could say the same thing about Team USA.

When the U.S. beat Canada in the preliminary round, Martin Brodeur was in goal and his teammates in front of him were looking for chemistry where there was none. Sidney Crosby was working with what would turn out to be five different wingers, roles were yet to be defined, and goals were harder to come by than a ticket for Sunday’s game.

Now the Canadians have hometown hero Roberto Luongo defending their goal, their lines have coalesced and they have scored 18 goals in three games.

Roles have emerged and been filled, young Jonathan Toews, showing leadership and consistency, anchoring a line with Rick Nash and Mike Richards that can go up against the other team’s firepower.

The San Jose Sharks line of Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau was on the ice when Canada opened the scoring at 13:30 Friday night, Marleau tipping in a shot. It has been Canada’s most consistent line from start to finish, but now has some credible support.

Brenden Morrow, who was looking for a place to play in the early stages of the tournament has found a home on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Morrow scored on a tip to make it 2-0 Friday night and Getzlaf made it 3-0 with a backhander to the roof of the net on the powerplay late in the second.

The Morrow-Getzlaf-Perry line has turned into an agitating group which will be valuable against the young and fast Americans who have not lost a game yet in the tournament. They blasted a hapless Finnish squad 6-1 Friday.

The Canadian blue-line has sorted itself out and was an offensive catalyst Friday night. Chris Pronger had a pair of assists and singles went to captain Scott Niedermayer and Shea Weber, as they had a hand in all three goals against the Slovaks.

The Americans, meanwhile, can say the same with defenceman Brian Rafalski emerging as the tournament’s scoring leader going into last night’s game.

USA goaltender Ryan Miller, the best in the NHL this season, is performing to the same level here and is riding a shut-out string of 111 minutes and 38 seconds going into Sunday’s game.

Luongo wasn’t severely tested in the Canadian goal and it will be interesting to see how he holds up if Sunday’s game winds up being the dandy that it looks to be.

The second period turned into a grind, the Canadians happy to throw the puck in deep and work over the Slovaks along the boards.

As the clock wound down in the third, the chant went up, “We want USA.”

Hockey fans will get what they want, two teams that have traveled different roads to get here, their paths set to cross again.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

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