U.S. finds scoring touch against Finns
It was as emphatic a statement as you could make on the world stage. Six goals in 13 minutes, making child's play of one of the best goalies on the planet and a club that won a silver medal four years ago.
That U.S. team nobody gave a chance to medal here will play for gold on Sunday afternoon after a 6-1 win over Finland in Friday's Olympic semifinal game.
"The staff we have here, they are all very positive people," U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller said. "When we have made mistakes, they have been calm and I think that's the type of demeanor this team needed."
Mikka Kiprusoff, who said that the only way he was coming to the Olympics was as Finland's starting goalie, pulled himself out of the game after the Americans took a 4-0 lead just over 10 minutes into Friday's game. The 2006 Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL's best netminder suffered one of the greatest goaltending letdowns in recent memory.
On the other end of the ice, Miller's day ended prematurely with his team up 6-0 when Tim Thomas, the Bruins goaltender, relieved him midway through the third period. Thomas allowed the Finns' only goal with 5:14 left in the third period to Antti Miettinen.
Other than that, it was all about the Americans.
The first goal was one part hustle, two parts gaffe when Phil Kessel forced the Kiprusoff to play a simple little dump into the defensive zone. Kiprusoff sent the puck to his right, putting it directly onto U.S. forward Ryan Malone's stick, who with the goalie out of place, fired it into an empty net, giving the U.S. a 1-0 lead just 2:04 into a contest that was supposed to be a tight, low-scoring affair.
Then it was all about Dustin Brown, who didn't factor into the score sheet, but made the two biggest plays of the afternoon, drawing back-to-back calls that led to a pair of power-play goals.
The first, an interference call when Finland's Janne Niskala dragged him down behind the net, led to Paul Stastny setting up Zach Parise in front for his third goal in the last two periods, signaling his arrival at these Olympic games.
The second, a boarding call on Finnish defenseman Toni Lydman, was followed by Kiprusoff failing to freeze the puck on a dump-in, sending it to the corner boards. Malone won a one-on-one battle, sent it Joe Pavelski's way and then to Erik Johnson for an easy tap-in.
"I mean, we've had some situations in my career where it's just spiraled like that," Brown said. "But those were in Los Angeles, certainly not in an Olympic semifinal. I think that's the surprising thing about it."
Patrick Kane scored Team UA's next to tallies. The first, a backhander at the 9:52 mark, led to Kiprusoff pulling himself, skating quickly off the ice and into the locker room, almost in a sign of complete surrender. And then just two minutes later, Kane served a rude welcome to Finland's relief goalie, Niklas Backstrom, making it 5-0.
"It was a really crazy 12 minutes," Kane said. "I've never been a part of something like that before where it seemed like we scored on every shift."
Stastny added the sixth with 7:14 to go in a period that turned a rout into history. The goal tied a U.S. Olympic record for goals in a single period and it marked the sixth time it had happened in the history of the games, the last coming in 1964. The U.S. scored 11 goals in a period in a 1948 game against Italy.
"I haven't been a part of that kind of game in a long time," Finland forward Teemu Selanne said. "It was a very long day, very disappointing. Bronze? Well we'll try to take what's left of it."
The team that had so much trouble putting one in the net against the Swiss went wild when it really counted.
Now it remains to be seen if the U.S. can repeat itself Sunday when the difference is between gold and silver.
"We need to do something we didn't get a chance to do last time," said U.S. defenseman Brian Rafalski, a member of the 2002 Olympic team that lost to Canada in the gold medal game. "Something's unfinished and I'm excited to be here and get a chance to make up for it."