The U.S. and Canadian women's hockey teams, predictably, have been the two best squads at the 2022 Winter Olympics by an enormous margin, and Monday night the bitter rivals faced off in what could very well be a dress rehearsal for the gold medal final.
As expected, their heated preliminary tilt was must-see material for hockey fans across North America, and it was Canada who ended up getting the 4-2 win over the U.S. to remain unbeaten at this year's Games.
Aside from a miscue from U.S. goaltender Maddie Rooney behind the net that nearly resulted in a Canada goal just seconds into the game, the U.S. was largely in control throughout the opening stanza. They led Canada in shots 16-5 through the game's first 20 minutes and generated several high-danger scoring chances — the most notable of which coming from forward Abbey Murphy on a breakaway. Canada netminder Ann-Renee Desbiens made the initial stop on Murphy, but the puck then bounced off the post — twice — and somehow stayed out of the net.
Despite the strong play from the U.S., though, Canada managed to break the ice on the power play after U.S. defender Caroline Harvey was assessed a cross-checking penalty. Brianne Jenner netted the first goal of the night off a terrific behind-the-net feed from Sarah Fillier, who at 21, already appears to be a rising star for Canada.
Goals were hard to come by in the opening period, but the game was busted wide open in the middle third. There were a combined five goals in the second period, which ended up being a 20-minute rollercoaster for both squads. It was the Americans who netted the first pair of goals in the period. Dani Cameranesi slid her own rebound past Desbiens to tie the game, and just over a minute later, Alex Carpenter gave the U.S. the lead with a gorgeous backhander off a terrific feed from Amanda Kessel on the rush.
Canada immediately came roaring back. Just 26 seconds after Carpenter's marker, Jenner scored her second of the night to knot the game at two goals apiece. Jamie Lee Rattray followed up her tally with a goal of her own, and with 2:35 remaining in the period, Marie-Philip Poulin earned a penalty shot after being interfered with on a shorthanded breakaway. She beat Rooney on the one-on-one, and the Canadians took the two-goal lead into the second intermission.
"In the dressing room, we talked about not letting momentum swing, so that’s something that we’ve been focusing on," said Desbiens on her team's response after allowing two U.S. goals. "Whenever we let a goal in, it’s just a fresh start when the puck drops and forget what happens, so I think it just shows how resilient we are, how we can just change the focus and don’t let momentum swing for too long."
Unlike in the first two periods, the U.S. struggled to get many quality shots on net in the final frame. The Canadians did an excellent job of limiting the Americans to shots from the perimeter, and when they did give the U.S. breathing room, Desbiens came up with timely saves to keep the momentum in her squad's favor. Canada also excelled at blocking shots throughout the night, and it was particularly true in the third period.
In the end, the U.S. dominated in terms of possession. They outshot the Canadians by a huge margin (53-27) and limited their time in the penalty box — both traits that typically equate to a winning formula. Unfortunately, they only managed to convert on one of their six chances on the power play, and those missed opportunities ended up costing them dearly.
"I thought we played a great game as a team. Obviously you saw that on the shots," said Rooney after the loss. "We've just got to get those better (scoring) chances in tight around the net and capitalize on those opportunities. We had a lot of shots from the perimeter.
"I feel good about our offensive game moving forward, we'll learn from this game."
With their victory, Canada will enter the playoffs as the top seed in Group A and will face off against the No. 3 seed from Group B in the quarterfinals. The U.S., meanwhile, will take on the No. 2 seed from Group B in their quarterfinal tilt.
The gold medal game, for what it's worth, is set for 11:00 p.m. ET on February 16.