NOREAU PLAYS HERO, POULIN THE SAVIOR AS CANADA DOWNS FINLAND
Despite backstopping Canada to a Spengler Cup and playing excellently at various pre-Olympic competitions, Canadian goaltender Kevin Poulin wasn’t brought to PyeongChang as the starter. Rather, he was a clear-cut second-stringer behind Ben Scrivens, and the Montreal native entered Canada's quarterfinal meeting with Finland watching from the bench. But here's the benefit to having someone who had played as brilliantly as Poulin had waiting in the wings: when Scrivens got injured early in the second period, Canada was able to call on their backup and Poulin did the rest.
It was only four minutes into the middle frame when Scrivens had to leave the game. To that point, he had been perfect, stopping everything Finland had thrown his way, and Poulin entered the game tasked with maintaining the shutout as Canada searched for the game’s opening goal. And perfect Poulin was. He was relatively untested throughout the remainder of the second, but under pressure in the third, Poulin refused to let anything by him. His unfaltering play was ever-important, too, as Canada needed every single save he provided to cling to a 1-0 lead.
Getting that lead was no easy task, and it took Canada more than two full periods to crack Finland’s Mikko Koskinen. Just 55 seconds into the third, though, the Canadians executed a perfect faceoff play to break the goalless tie. Eric O’Dell, who was fantastic in the faceoff circle all game, won a draw cleanly back to Maxim Noreau, and the defenseman one-timed the puck past Koskinen to give Canada the edge.
From there on out, it was all about tight defensive play and smothering forechecking for Canada. Across the final 20 minutes, the Canadians were sure not to give Finland any high-quality opportunities or make any unforced errors. And thanks to continued prowess on the dot, Canada was able to clear the puck out of harm’s way on several occasions without fear of a lost defensive-zone faceoff proving costly. The slim margin made for a furious finish, but Canada, with Poulin between the pipes, was able to hang on to advance to the semifinal and date with the surprising Germans.
CZECHS ELIMINATE TEAM USA FROM MEDAL CONTENTION IN SHOOTOUT
As the top-ranked team in Group A and a squad that collected the second-most points in the preliminary round, the Czech Republic may have entered the quarterfinals as one of the four favorites, but Team USA presented one of the toughest tests the Czechs have had to face all tournament and it took 70 minutes and a shootout for a winner to be decided.
The Czechs got an early reminder that getting through the American side would be a tough task, too. Six minutes into the first frame, less than a minute after Team USA had killed their first penalty of the game, the college connection came to fruition for the “underdog” side. Troy Terry worked the puck down the left wing and spotted Ryan Donato cutting through the center of the ice, hit him with a pass and the Harvard standout did the rest, slinging a wrister by Czech netminder Pavel Francouz. And for several minutes, Donato’s tally stood as the lone goal, but a faceoff win by Jan Kovar late in the frame allowed Jan Kolar an open look, and the Czech defender blasted one home to draw the game level.
Midway through the second, the Czechs pulled ahead for the first time in the outing on a tally by Tomas Kundratek and it was only seconds later that USA’s Mark Arcobello was whistled for tripping, seemingly giving the Czech Republic an opportunity to take full control of the game. Instead, late in the penalty kill, Jim Slater broke down the ice and manage to wire one for a shorthanded game-tying goal. Even at two apiece, that's where the game stayed, though USA came within an inch of taking a late lead when Brian O’Neill clanked iron in the final minutes of the third.
In overtime, the two sides traded chances, but neither was able to put an end to the contest, leaving a shootout to decide who would advance and whose tournament would end early. And in the breakaway competition, Czech center Petr Koukal scored on a brilliant move to put his team ahead. Donato, Arcobello, Terry and Bobby Butler each had opportunities to draw USA level, but Francouz wouldn't be beat as the Czech Republic advanced with a 3-2 shootout victory.
OAR CRUSHES NORWAY TO TAKE STEP CLOSER TO GOLD
Give Norway credit: OAR was held off the scoreboard for nearly half of the first frame and it wasn't until the nine-minute mark that Mikhail Grigorenko broke the 0-0 draw. Of course, by the time the first was through, the signs of an OAR victory were there. Five minutes after Grigorenko’s tally, Nikita Gusev found twine on the power play. Six minutes later, it was Slava Voynov’s turn. But a change of goaltenders entering the second seemed to give the Norwegians a boost. They drew two early penalties and snapped the OAR shutout bid little more than seven minutes into the period when Alexander Bonsaksen fired one home.
That was as close as Norway would come, however, as the powerhouse OAR side poured it on over the back half of the contest, adding three more markers to skate to a 6-1 win. OAR’s next test will be the Czech Republic with a chance to advance to the gold medal game.
REIMER SCORES GREAT GOAL AS GERMANS STUN SWEDES
It's the perfect Olympic Cinderella story. Germany entered the tournament as the seventh-ranked side and finished the preliminary round with the third-fewest points of any team. Yet, when the elimination round began, Germany surprised the Swiss with an overtime victory. And just when it looked like the magic had run out for the Germans, Patrick Reimer scored the biggest goal of his entire career.
In regulation, Germany had managed to maintain a stunning 2-0 lead over Sweden well into the third frame, but the Swedes began to charge hard in the back half of the final period. First, Anton Lander struck to draw Sweden within one, and after Dominik Kahun restored Germany's two-goal lead, Sweden got goals from Patrik Hersley and Mikael Wikstrand to send the game to overtime. But it took only 90 seconds for Reimer to deliver the dagger. After slick moves to work in on goal, Reimer fired a shot on Victor Fasth before slapping home his own rebound to send Germany to the semifinal, where they will meet Canada for a chance to play in the gold-medal game.
FINLAND WINS THIRD OLYMPIC BRONZE ON VALIMAKI GOAL
Behind Team USA and Canada, Finland entered the Olympic tournament as the third-best squad in the women's game, and the Finnish women put a stamp on that in PyeongChang with a victory over OAR to capture the nation’s third bronze medal in the women's Olympic competition.
Finland opened the scoring in the bronze medal contest when Petra Nieminen hit the back of the net on an early power play, and it was only 10 seconds into the second when Susanna Tapani doubled the Finnish lead. Minutes later, OAR got on the board, but Linda Valimaki answered before the period was through to give Finland another two-goal lead. OAR made a game of it late when Lyudmila Belyakova managed to beat Noora Raty on the power play, but the Finnish netminder shut the door from there on out to capture bronze.
CANADA, TEAM USA PREPARE FOR GOLD MEDAL CLASH
Thursday afternoon in PyeongChang, when it’s Wednesday evening back across the Pacific, Canada and Team USA will renew one of hockey’s greatest rivalries, a cross-border battle that has been waged year in and year our for nearly three decades, dating all the way back to the inaugural women’s World Championship in 1990.
It most certainly isn’t a meeting anyone is surprised to see, either. After all, since 1990, there has only been one major international competition that hasn’t pitted Canada against Team USA. And since that one aberration, which came when Sweden lost to Canada in the gold medal game at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, the two rival North American nations have met in every single Olympic and World Championship final. For those scoring at home, that’s 11 consecutive tournaments, and PyeongChang makes a perfect dozen. And when the two sides square off with yet another Olympic gold on the line, it will represent a distinct opportunity for both nations.
For the Canadian women, a gold in PyeongChang would allow for the continuation of Olympic dominance. Canada has won four straight gold medals at the Olympics, beginning with the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, continuing on to 2006 in Turin, on through 2010 in Vancouver and capturing a fourth in a row at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Winning a fifth straight would take their Olympic dominance to even greater heights. But the final of the 2018 Games is Team USA’s chance to get back to the top of the podium, something they’ve failed to do since 1998 in Nagano.
To be sure, Canada is Team USA’s dragon to slay on this stage. The Americans have been dominant, almost remarkably so, outside Olympic competition. They’ve won four straight and eight of the past 10 World Championships, even if there were a few brushes with defeat that were narrowly avoided by overtime heroics. But Canada has continued to have Team USA’s number at the Olympics, with 2014’s overtime heartbreaker still fresh in the minds of many on the American roster four years later. Already having lost to Canada at this tournament — a 2-1 loss in preliminary play — Team USA will have its chance to exact revenge for 20 years of Olympic pain.
1. Patrick Reimer (GER): Scored the overtime winner that saw Germany shock Sweden.
2. Linda Valimaki (FIN): Second period tally stood as the bronze-winning goal.
3. Maxim Noreau (CAN): His blast was the only goal in Canada’s contest against Finland.
Wednesday, Feb. 21
USA vs. Canada (W), 11:10 p.m. ET — Gold Medal Game
Friday, Feb. 23
OAR vs. Czech Republic (M), 2:40 a.m. ET — Semifinal
Germany vs. Canada (M), 7:10 a.m. ET — Semifinal
Saturday, Feb. 24
TBD vs. TBD (M), 7:10 a.m. ET — Bronze Medal Game
TBD vs. TBD (M), 11:10 p.m. ET — Gold Medal Game