Canada downs U.S. men in Olympic hockey semifinal

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SOCHI, Russia — For the second time in less than 24 hours, Canada broke U.S. hockey hearts.

Using its speed and strength to control much of the play, the Canadians knocked their southern neighbors out of gold medal contention for the second straight Olympics with a 1-0 victory in a riveting semifinal match Friday.

The men’s victory came a day after the Canadian women won the gold medal by coming back in the final minutes to beat the Americans 3-2 in overtime.

Canada’s men now will face Sweden in the gold medal game on Sunday, while the United States faces Finland on Saturday for the bronze.

The Canada-U.S. men’s showdown pitted the defending gold medalists who claim hockey supremacy as a birthright against the plucky Americans who seek to stake a legitimate claim as the world’s finest.

A high-spirited game featured lots of chances, especially by Canada, but only one goal early in the second period when Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn tipped in a pass disguised as a pass by St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.

Benn gave credit to a player he competes against during the National Hockey League season, saying in a between-periods TV interview that “Bouwmeester made a great shot-pass.”

The game was a rematch of the gold medal final four years when Pittsburgh Penguin superstar Sidney Crosby scored the overtime goal for Canada to beat the Americans.

Canada outshot the Americans 28-22 on Friday, and U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings, a Stanley Cup winner and playoff MVP in 2012, kept his side in the game.

Quick made a series of saves, including two on good chances by NHL teammate Jeff Carter of Canada and a sliding stop on Benn, who was unable to lift a shot from the right circle.

After a fast-paced even start, Canada took control near the midway point of the first period, firing eight shots to two by the United States the rest of the way. The Canadians maintained the advantage the rest of the way, holding off a U.S. surge at the end by preventing any clear or close scoring chances.

With the top professionals competing, the Olympic tournament amounts to an effective hockey World Cup every four years, and the 2014 version has provided all the requisite story lines and drama for classic status.

It came 34 years after the “Miracle on Ice” in Lake Placid, New York, when the then-amateur American team upset the dominant Soviet Union in the semifinals and went on to win the gold medal against Finland.

There was a minor miracle this time, when St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie almost singlehandedly beat host Russia in the preliminary round when he scored on four of six shootout chances to secure a 3-2 American victory after the teams tied through regulation play and overtime.

On Friday, Oshie and St. Louis teammates David Backes and Kevin Shattenkirk took on fellow Blues Alex Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester, a defense pairing for Canada.

Many such confrontations existed between the rosters comprised of NHL competitors.

U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma also coaches Pittsburgh, and was trying to neutralize Crosby and Penguins’ teammate Chris Kunitz.

At one point in the first period, San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau of Canada took a penalty for interfering with NHL teammate Joe Pavelski.

For the Americans, the revenge factor was doubled after Canada beat the U.S. women 3-2 for the gold medal Thursday by scoring twice in the final minutes to tie the game, then winning it on an overtime power play. Kessel’s sister, Amanda, was a top U.S. player throughout the tournament.

Neither the Canadians nor the U.S. men had lost a game so far this Olympics, but both had close calls. Oshie’s shootout heroics against Russia gave the Americans an easier route through the quarterfinals, where they defeated the Czech Republic 5-2 on Wednesday.

Canada won an overtime nail-biter over Finland in its last preliminary match, followed by a tight 2-1 victory over upstart Latvia on Wednesday to set up Friday’s clash with the Americans.

Sweden is the only team to have won all its matches in regulation time.

Two of its NHL stars, Loui Eriksson of the Boston Bruins and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators, scored in the second period Friday against Finland, while goalie Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers made 25 saves to secure the victory. Olli Jokinen of the Winnipeg Jets scored for Finland.

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