Five things you should know about USA-Canada gold-medal showdown
The stakes will be high as U.S. and Canada face off with Olympic gold on the line
Team USA's prelim 5-3 win over Canada means nothing once the game starts
Canada is improved since that setback; the U.S. is clicking on all cylinders
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- All the stars have aligned for this, the last stop on the hockey tour de force that will likely reach legendary proportions Sunday afternoon, when the U.S. and Canada face off with Olympic gold on the line.
Going into North America's biggest border war since the Oregon boundary dispute of the 1840s -- consider "Go Canada Go!" the 21st century version of "Fifty-four forty or Fight!" -- here are the five points to know:
1. In Olympic hockey, a week might as well be a century. So forget the 5-3 USA win last Sunday. Forget that Canada outshot the U.S. by almost 2-to-1 (45-23). "Different goaltender, different team," U.S. general manager Brian Burke said of Canada Saturday. "They're a much better team than they were a week ago. I know that sounds silly, but they are. So are we." Since last week's Super Sunday showdown, Canada replaced Devils goalie Martin Brodeur with Roberto Luongo, who has backstopped the team to three-straight victories. Luongo has, however, had plenty of help in front of him. Canada skated by Germany and handled Russia with surprising ease, outscoring the two teams 15-5. Likewise, after Burke called out his team, saying just 10 players were carrying the load, Team USA responded with better efforts against the Swiss and Finland. In a commanding 6-1 win over the Finns, the U.S. got scoring from eight different players, including two goals from winger Patrick Kane. With essentially two different teams, expect a different game.
2. Through five games, U.S. goalie Ryan Miller has proven how big a factor he is. Leading goaltenders with a .954 save percentage, Miller has allowed just five goals in the tournament, only two of them at even-strength. He has been the anchor for Team USA, and if he has one more game-stealing performance, it would be worth 1.2 pounds of gold. Does he have it in him? "I'm not worried about Ryan," USA coach Ron Wilson said. "I'm more worried about how we're going to attack Roberto Luongo." The Canucks goalie has been in Canada's net since Sunday, and while he's been solid in net, he hasn't exactly been lights out. In its semifinal game, he let Slovakia back into it, giving up a pair of third-period goals. But he came up with the big saves at the right times, as Canada held on for the win.
3. Since the game against the U.S., Canada's offense has been a-buzzing, having worked out the chemistry issues that had been stifling the big-name offense. But even more surprising than the forwards for Canada have been their defensemen. In Turin, the Canadian blue line contributed seven points through six games. Through five games in Vancouver, they have 28 points between them. Shea Weber has been a force, with two goals and six points, and he can help neutralize the opposition's big scorers, as he helped do against Alex Ovechkin in the game against Russia. The U.S., with small but shifty wingers, like Zach Parise and Kane, will have to stand up to Canada's physical pressure and stand strong in front of Luongo to capitalize on rebounds and deflections, as they did in the first game.
4. Who's really under the pressure? "Let me start again, all the pressure is on Canada," Burke said to open his press conference. The man sure knows how to drive home a point, and he is certainly correct. With an expectant nation watching, the Canadians are in a must-win situation. Nobody really argues the amount of pressure Team Canada is facing, but the question is how the pressure will affect them. If it gets into their heads, it could be the difference. If they "drink it up," as Mike Babcock says, it could power them through to their first gold since 2002.
5. The offensive game-breakers for either team will be Canada's Ryan Getzlaf and USA's Patrick Kane. Kane, coming off his two goals against Finland, can do a great deal of damage if given just a little space and time. And Getzlaf, the big-bodied center who almost didn't play in these Games because of a foot injury, is the kind of player who shows up at the biggest times. "It's the thrill of the game, I think," he says of his effectiveness on the grand stage. "It's easy to get up for these ones."
The game starts at 3:15 p.m. (ET) and will be broadcast on NBC.