VIERUMAKI, Finland – Strong special teams and goaltending propelled the U.S. women to a 3-2 win over Canada on Friday at the Four Nations Cup in a preview of Saturday’s championship game.
American captain Natalie Darwitz scored a power-play goal and Hilary Knight a short-handed one early in the first period to take a 2-0 lead.
Canada pulled even with goals from Rebecca Johnston of Sudbury, Ont., and Marie-Philip Poulin of Beauceville, Que., but Meghan Duggan’s goal with 14 seconds remaining in the second period stood up as the winner.
Canada outshot the U.S. 22-18, but couldn’t solve goalie Jesse Vetter in the third period despite four power-play opportunities.
“We just couldn’t put the puck in the net today,” Johnston said. “I think tomorrow we’re going to come out stronger and we’ll get those goals we didn’t get today.”
Vetter made 20 saves, while Canadian counterpart Charline Labonte of Boisbriand, Que., made 15.
It was Labonte’s first start against the U.S. since the world championship final in April, when Canada lost 4-1 in Hameenlinna, Finland.
A sprained ankle in August kept her out of the lineup for almost two months. Labonte stopped all six shots she faced in the third period, when the U.S. had three power-play chances.
“I felt good during the game, but obviously I didn’t come up with the win, so I need to work harder and do better next time,” Labonte said.
“It sucks that we lost, but it wasn’t a bad loss. We played well.”
The U.S. remained undefeated a 3-0 in the tournament, while Canada dropped to 2-1.
The two countries meet again in Saturday’s final in Tikkurila, Finland.
“This was a friendly match and good competition,” U.S. coach Mark Johnson said. “Now tomorrow we get to play for a championship.”
While Canadian coach Melody Davidson was pleased her team limited U.S. scoring chances, she wasn’t satisfied with how Canada came out of the gates.
Forward Caroline Ouellette was slapped with an interference penalty 42 seconds after the opening faceoff. Darwitz made the most of the man advantage with a power-play goal at 1:57 on a feed from Knight.
Knight scored short-handed at 8:11 with a slapshot from the faceoff circle that beat Labonte top corner.
Johnston pulled Canada within a goal during a power play at 12:09. Poulin deadlocked the game at 7:10 of the second with a wrist shot over Vetter’s right shoulder
“We definitely can’t give up two goals early,” Davidson said. “We played a solid enough game. Our power play needed to pull the trigger when it had the chance and it didn’t, so we’ll address a couple things on the power play.
“Other than that, we need to do what we did and be a little hungrier around the net.”
Sweden beat Finland 2-1 in overtime at Hartwall in the day’s other contest. Those two countries meet again Saturday in the third-place game.
The annual Four Nations Cup is Canada’s last international tournament before the Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C. on Feb. 12.
Canada won the last two Olympic gold medals in women’s hockey, but the U.S. has taken back-to-back world championships. Barring an upset, the two countries are expected to meet for gold Feb. 25 in Vancouver.
Twenty-six players are trying out for 21 jobs on the Canadian women’s team. Davidson has not said when she’ll name her final roster.
The U.S. took a 3-2 edge in the season series with Friday’s win. The Americans beat Canada twice at the Hockey Canada Cup in September, but the Canadians responded with victories in two exhibition games.
Saturday’s game (11 a.m. ET) can be viewed on USA Hockey’s webcast at www.uscho.com.