In 2010, the United States thrashed Sweden 9-1 en route to earning a silver medal. Four years later, the chasm between the two countries' women's hockey programs remains.
Megan Bozek and Brianna Decker each scored three points (a goal and two assists apiece), and 10 Americans scored at least one point as the United States advanced to the gold-medal round with a 6-1 blowout victory over Sweden on Monday.
The United States will face rivals Canada, who beat Switzerland 3-1 in its semifinal matchup. The Americans will have a chance to not only atone for its 2010 gold-medal defeat but also its collapse earlier in Sochi.
Interestingly placed in the same group, Canada and the United States faced off last Wednesday in a possible gold-medal preview. The U.S. held a 1-0 lead through the first two periods but watched as Canada scored three goals in the third to earn a 3-2 victory. It was an uncharacteristically poor defensive performance from the United States and should lead to a motivated squad heading into Wednesday.
As forward Hilary Knight told Shira Springer of The Boston Globe, watching film on that game was an exercise in frustration:
We didn’t play Team USA-style hockey. That was evident in the film that we watched and it was painful at times. You’re watching yourself and thinking, "Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I did that." It was so uncharacteristic of what we’ve been working towards the last few months. It was a reminder of what we did and where we need to be and what we need to do.
Odds are their victory over Sweden will be a far more pleasant viewing experience.
Coming out with an aggressive, attacking style from the opening puck drop, it did not take long for the United States to control the pace. Alex Carpenter netted the game's first goal on a power play at the 6:10 mark of the first period, and Kacey Bellamy added another a minute later. By the end of the first period, the U.S. had a commanding 3-0 lead, and Bozek and Decker had two assists apiece.
It ultimately wouldn't have affected the result, but Sweden might have come closer if it had done a better job of avoiding penalties. The Swedes earned three penalties in a four-minute span, leaving the already undermanned roster to scramble throughout.
The United States out-shot Sweden 29-1 in the first, as the underdogs could barely even hold on to the puck long enough to form a cogent attack. Bruce Arthur of the National Post was ready to call the game for the Americans early on:
Rules forced the teams to play all three periods, however, and it was soon apparent Arthur's sentiment would play out. A Pernilla Winberg interference penalty led to a Monique Lamoureux power-play goal at 5:41 in the second period, assisted by her twin sister Jocelyne Lamoureux. Bozek netted a full-strength goal to make it 5-0 at 12:17, leading to Sweden pulling goaltender Valentina Lizana Wallner.
While she let five shots go into net, the semifinal was ultimately an admirable performance from the Swedish goaltender. Wallner faced 47 shots in less than two full periods, consistently diving and sprawling and watching her defenders get into poor position. By the time Kim Martin Hasson replaced Wallner, it was obvious the United States' pace and aggression left the Swedes exhausted.
The Americans played out the rest of the second scoreless, ultimately taking their foot off the pedal heading into the intermission. With a five-goal lead and Sweden unable to match up athletically, it was merely about playing out the final 20 minutes. Jason Lisk of The Big Lead even had time to develop an obviously sophisticated statistical model pointing out the United States' chances:
Whether it was due to a lack of intensity from the United States or Swedish pride, the third period was far and away the most competitive. Sweden came out on the attack in the opening moments for a rare goal-scoring opportunity and tightened up its defense, with the Americans swinging the puck around the blue line more than they had the first two periods.
With time draining down, the Swedes got their first triumph of the game. Amid a scrum near the net, Anna Borgqvist sent through their first goal to make it 5-1. Emma Eliasson and Pernilla Winberg received points for their assists.
The good times kept rolling a little later in the period when Jocelyne Lamoureux earned a penalty shot. Lamoureux swept around with a beautiful, twisting backhand shot attempt, but Martin Hasson stayed at home and stuck her leg out for the unlikely save. After taking over for Wallner, she performed admirably to stop 22 of the 23 shots that went her way.
The only one that went into the Swedish net wasn't even her fault. Decker drilled a one-time shot past Martin Hasson that went ricocheting off the post, but Sweden's Emilia Andersson accidentally knocked it into the goal at the 16:58 mark to finalize the score.
Overall, the United States will look to take more away from the first two periods than the last. This was a wholly expected and assumed domination, but the third period highlights this team's propensity to take its foot off the gas. Against an overmatched team like Sweden, that mindset can work.
If the third-period intensity shows up against Canada (or Switzerland), though, the U.S. will walk away disappointed with silver for the second straight Olympics.
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