Canada is the reigning Olympic champion. The Canadians have the more talented roster.
But the Americans are playing the best hockey in Sochi.
The US earned Friday’s semifinal showdown against Canada with a 5-2 win over Czech Republic, yet another professional win for the Americans. Aside from a handful of pressuring shifts by the Czechs, the Americans controlled the pace of the game by using their speed and battle level in the danger areas.
The best unit was the No. 3 line of Dustin Brown, David Backes, and Ryan Callahan. The American coaching staff deployed the line as a matchup threesome against Tomas Plekanec and Jaromir Jagr, the Czechs’ top scoring pair. Neither Plekanec nor Jagr scored.
At the other end, Brown and Backes scored first-period goals. Backes had the most important strike of the game. With 1.8 seconds remaining in the first, Backes gave the Americans a 3-1 lead. Backes found the rebound of Ryan Suter’s intentional shot off the end boards and beat Czech goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
It was a backbreaking goal for the Czechs.
One goal later, a power-play jam-in by Zach Parise, the Czechs pulled Pavelec. The Winnipeg Jets goalie was his usual self: electric in some situations, JV in others. With more consistent goaltending, the Czechs could have made it a game in the third.
Now comes Canada. It will be an electric game. It is the game everyone wants to see. The only unfortunate circumstance is that it won’t be for gold.
Gold nugget: Ryan McDonagh. Consistent throughout the Olympics on the top defensive pair alongside Suter. McDonagh plays the left side in the NHL but he has been Suter’s right-side partner in Sochi. The US used Suter and McDonagh against Plekanec’s line. They will be busy against either Sidney Crosby or Ryan Getzlaf Friday.
Lead weight: Patrick Kane. Not much offensive presence from the team’s most skilled offensive player. Two shots, one assist in 17:28 of ice time. Kane needs to control the puck more against Canada.
Numbers game: Brown led the Americans with five shots on goal. Much better game from their alternate captain. US needs that line to be a two-way presence in the semifinals.
Bruin involvement: David Krejci set up the Czechs’ first goal. Krejci turned McDonagh inside out, then hit a trailing Marek Zidlicky with a cross-ice pass. Krejci centered the No. 2 line between Milan Michalek and Ales Hemsky.