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Women's Olympic Hockey Final Preview: Breaking Down Canada vs. USA

It's the hottest matchup on ice. Canada and the United States are set to fight for women's Olympic hockey glory, and we've got everything you need to know leading up to the gold medal match.
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Could it end any other way?

For the sixth time in seven attempts, Canada and USA will battle for gold in one of the greatest rivalries in hockey. They even have an exhibition run called the "Rivalry Series" to commemorate just how intense these two teams are against each other. 

And they're going for gold in Beijing.

Canada won the first meeting between the two teams, a 4-2 win to close out the round robin. It was another instant classic between two teams that everyone expected would battle for gold, and they're the only two champions of the event.

As it stands, Canada, the only undefeated team in Beijing, is the favorite to win gold based on tournament performance alone. But winning in the round-robin hasn't always transferred over well to the main event. Canada won the preliminary round game back in 2018 before the United States won gold in the shootout, so it's very possible the same could happen again.

The conclusion of the women's tournament should be a tight one. Here's a look at what you need to know for Wednesday's finale:

How Canada Wins

Much has been made about Canada's scoring exploits. Just how dangerous have they been? Of the top 15 tournament scorers, Canada has 10 of them, including Sarah Nurse's leading 16 points in just six games. Canada has a wild 54 goals for, 311 shots on goal and has scored on 17.36 of the team's shots, good for first in all three categories. For reference, Canada scored just 18 goals in five games in 2018, 17 in six games in 2014 and 48 in five outings in 2010.

For the United States, playing against essentially the same competition in the A pool, hasn't had the same luck. USA scored 28 goals in six games with an 8.38 shooting percentage, which is only good for fifth in the tournament. Even games against Finland and the Czech Republic weren't as easy as expected.

Does that really matter heading into the gold medal game? If we've learned anything about these teams, not a chance. Both sides want to beat each other more than anyone, and we typically get thriller after thriller when there's gold on the line. Canada looked like the favorite heading into the Pyeongchang final in 2018, but USA ultimately won. For as good as Canada has been, the Americans have their number over the past decade internationally, although Canada has the most recent major victory at the women's World Championship last summer.

Still, it's hard to ignore just how well Canada has played with the puck, and Canada needs all four lines to keep rolling.

How USA Wins

Experience. And that might sound dumb, because, obviously, these two teams know each other so well and are the best of the best.

But since 2011, USA has won six of the eight World Championships, one of the two Olympic Games and six 4 Nations Cup titles. No women's national team has been more successful over the past decade, and much of that core has remained together for a good chunk of that. So this team knows what it takes to win, even when Canada has looked like gold medal favorites in the past.

This is a team that's used to winning and expects to win. And the results don't lie. Hilary Knight, Megan Bozek, Amanda Kessel, Kendall Coyne Schofield and Alex Carpenter, among others, have been through it all. It's not like the Americans have played bad at all, but Canada has just been the team with more of the jump.

USA wasn't thrilled with their performance against Canada in the round robin, despite controlling the puck possession and the total shots. The key will be getting one past Ann-Renee Desbiens early and forcing Canada to chase – easier said than done, but the Americans need to do whatever it takes to get Debiens out of her comfort zone.

Players to Watch

Canada

Brianne Jenner, F
A native of Oakville, Ontario, Jenner picked a good time to have her best tournament. Jenner leads the tournament with nine goals and sits fourth in scoring with 13 points, besting her previous Olympic career-high of two from 2018. It shouldn't come too much as a surprise, though, after recording 11 points at the World Championship last summer, the previous best tournament of her career, offensively. Jenner scored twice in the round-robin meeting against the Americans, and Canada will be looking for a bit more of that when it matters the most.

Sarah Fillier, F
The 21-year-old sensation continues to prove why she's one of the best rising stars in the game today. Sitting second with eight goals, Fillier has been just as important of a goal-scorer as Jenner and her blistering speed has been an issue for defenders. Fillier is already a two-time Patty Kazmaier Award finalist as the top NCAA woman hockey player, and she's only played two years of college. A big game by Fillier will only boost her already high profile even higher.

Marie-Philip Poulin, F
Well, duh. With how good Canada has been, they haven't needed Poulin to be a hero just yet. At the 2014 Olympics, Poulin scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in the gold medal game to beat the Americans. Four years before that, she scored the only two goals in the final against USA to win gold. While she didn't win in 2018, she scored to give Canada a chance. And then most recently, she scored the golden goal at the women's World Championship. Poulin has four goals and 14 points so far, but you just know she's going to be dangerous when everything is on the line.

USA

Hilary Knight, F
Statistically, Knight is having her best Olympic Games with nine points in six games. As a veteran of four Olympics, Knight is still a key part of USA's core and leads the team in scoring once more. Knight is six points behind Jenny Potter for USA's all-time leading scorer mark in Olympic play, and while she's unlikely to hit that in the final, she's just two points behind Meghan Agosta for sixth among all players. Knight is no stranger to big championship games, and this could be one of the biggest for the 32-year-old star.

Alex Carpenter, F
One of USA's most dangerous goal-scorers, Carpenter has recorded points in all but one game while anchoring the team's second line. Playing in her second Olympic Games, Carpenter led the team in goals in 2018 with four, the same number she has in Beijing. Carpenter scored in the 4-2 loss to Canada in the round robin, but was one of USA's most impactful players and you shouldn't expect anything less from the sniper.

Savannah Harmon, D
A new name to the American national team, Harmon has been excellent for the Americans throughout this tournament. Harmon has averaged 22:46 in ice time in USA's top four, a group that has nearly equally shared the ice through six games. Harmon leads all non-Canadian defenders in points with two goals and seven points, playing on the power play and getting favorable matchups throughout the whole tournament. While she might not be the No. 1 defenseman on the team, the fact that another young blueliner has made such an impact with the team is good for the future.

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Fast Facts

Time of Game: 11:10 PM ET/8:10 PM PT/12:10 local
All-Time Record: Canada leads 4-2
Defending Champion: USA, 2018
Leading Scorer (CAN): Sarah Nurse, 16P
Leading Scorer (USA): Hilary Knight, 9P

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