Canada made it a close game in the third period, but the U.S. women's hockey team held onto their lead and won their final matchup before Sochi, 3-2, in front of a crowd of 17,277 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto Monday night.
After a scoreless first period, Team USA went into the second firing on all cylinders. Kelli Stack walked the puck over the blueline and created just enough space for a long shot on net that Hilary Knight deflected in, shrugging off Jocelyne Larocque, to get the Americans on the board first. Then they converted quickly on a power play opportunity, with Stack getting to the front of the net behind the Canadian defense and putting home a pass from Alex Carpenter for the 2-0 lead. And then, off of a faceoff late in the period, Megan Bozek fired one through traffic (with Knight right in front of goalie Genevieve Lacasse) to make it 3-0.
But Canada finished the period, with Natalie Spooner breaking their goose egg just before the buzzer. After some tremendous back-and-forth play by both teams, Canada blocked a shot and went the other way, Spooner going practically end-to-end and drawing Molly Schaus to her knees before scoring on a pretty backhand shot.
The Canadians weren't finished there -- early in the third, Caroline Ouellette made a pass from a prone position on the ice to Brianne Jenner in the neutral zone. Jenner in turn took a shot on net and chased her own rebound, fighting off Stack for the goal to make it 3-2.
Lesson learned: Don't sit back on Canada.
Indeed, they carried much of the play in the final frame, as the U.S. took plenty of penalties, the offense continued to crash the net, and the defense began to break up Team USA's formidable forecheck. In the end, some great shot blocking by the Americans (Knight in particular) and Schaus's play in net preserved the win.
Notables about this game: Wow, this was a really good game, wow, a lot of people were there, and wow, once you see the highlights (which I'll post once they're made available), you'll see why Hilary Knight has her own darn hockey card now. She was all over the ice tonight, and together, she, Carpenter and Stack gave the Canadians fits. It was really great to watch.
While Team USA ran away with this series toward the end, this game in particular proved that in no certain terms is the gold medal theirs once they get to Sochi. During the telecasts of these games, there was plenty of talk about Team Canada's tenacity and how their new head coach in particular (Kevin Dineen for those who don't know) has been able to re-focus them, keep them positive and allow them to be as creative as possible in the offensive zone. Plus, all three of their goalies -- Shannon Szabados, Charline Labonte and Lacasse -- have been solid despite the scores, and they have a good mix of veterans to balance the new talent on the roster.
Team USA has plenty of talent in its own lineup-- Knight, Amanda Kessel (should she be healthy for Sochi), and of course Schaus and Jessie Vetter in goal, among others -- so this series is a great look at what should be an entertaining bout between these old rivals. Of course, add rising teams Sweden and Finland, and who knows what could happen?
Finalized rosters for both the men's and women's teams will be announced Wednesday during the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich.