U.S. nabs another solid hockey win
It took nearly all 60 minutes for the U.S. hockey team to get the blowout it wanted.
Nursing a two-goal lead for much of the final two periods, the Americans broke it open against Norway on Thursday when defenseman Brian Rafalski scored twice in the final three minutes of a 6-1 victory.
Phil Kessel and Chris Drury had first-period goals, Patrick Kane stretched the lead to 3-0 in the second, and Ryan Malone added his second goal of the tournament to back seldom-tested goalie Ryan Miller.
The Americans improved to 2-0 in these Olympics. They held a 39-11 edge in shots over Norway, which has been outscored 14-1 in two games.
Rafalski's first goal with 3 minutes remaining came shortly after Olympic swimming great Michael Phelps left his rinkside seat. Rafalski finished the late outburst in the last minute.
After winning only once in six games (1-4-1) four years ago in Turin, the United States will have a chance to capture Group A with a victory over heavily favored Canada on Sunday.
With only a 3-1 victory Tuesday over Switzerland, the U.S. was in danger of tiebreaker problems should it fall to Canada. Four teams clinch spots in the quarterfinals, while the other eight countries will play for the other four spots. Goal differential is a key tiebreaker, so lopsided wins are beneficial.
The Americans held a 15-2 shots advantage through the first period and 23-9 after 40 minutes. But Miller was beaten for a short-handed goal by Marius Holtet in the second.
That gave the Norwegians, seeded 11th in the 12-team tournament, something to celebrate after an 8-0 loss in their opener to Canada on Tuesday night.
Chants of "USA USA" broke out less than 20 seconds in and before the Americans recorded their first shot. Unlike Wednesday, when ABBA music was played during stoppages of Sweden's game against Germany, U.S. artists — Bruce Springsteen, John Denver, Bon Jovi — were on the playlist.
Not to be outdone, many fans decked out in red — Norway and Canada varieties — yelled support for the decided underdogs.
The Americans' top line connected in the second period for its first goal. Kane slipped a pass to Zach Parise at the left point and charged to the net as the New Jersey Devils' forward fired a shot. Pal Grotnes, who despite allowing four goals called the loss to Canada the best game he ever played, left a big rebound off his pad that Kane steered into the open right side to make it 3-0 at 5:52.
Grotnes didn't finish the game against Canada and was said to have leg cramps.
The U.S. had numerous chances to put the game away on its power play, but never got it in sync. Kane made a nifty move deep in the zone to get around a defender, drawing ooohs from the crowd. But instead of shooting, he tried to pass to captain Jamie Langenbrunner on his left wing.
The puck missed its target, and Holtet led a 2-on-1 rush the other way. Holtet zipped a drive from the right circle that eluded Miller's blocker and found its way in off the post at 8:37 to bring Norway within 3-1.
Miller was better with 4:22 remaining in the period when he did the splits to stop a redirected shot off the stick of Anders Bastiansen that barely caught his pad before it could find its way into the net.
The Buffalo Sabres star goalie, who U.S. coach Ron Wilson said will start every game barring something drastic, faced only two shots in the first period, but both were prime scoring chances for Jonas Andersen. The second was a one-timer from the right circle that had Miller darting across the crease.
Kessel gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead just 2:39 in when he received a pass in the neutral zone from Joe Pavelski and snapped off a laser shot that caromed in off the crossbar before Grotnes had a chance to stop it. Drury, whose selection to the U.S. team received some criticism because of a lack of recent scoring production, validated the move at 13:04.
David Backes, who scored an end-to-end goal Tuesday, sent a pass to Ryan Callahan for a shot that bounced off his pad to New York Rangers teammate Drury for an easy putback that made it 2-0.
Miller started the rush and earned an assist in the third when he sent Jack Johnson on a 2-on-1 that Malone cleaned up with a rebound goal with 5:41 remaining.