SOCHI, Russia — This was a fast, methodical demise, if there is such a thing, and as the game wore on, it became apparent that there was no way out for Team USA.
Canada had a death grip on the Americans, and although everyone knows that hockey is a game of crazy bounces, there never seemed to be a hint that the United States was going to win Friday night. What we were witnessing was a 1-0 blowout.
Its dream of knocking off the Canadians and heading to the Olympic gold-medal game ended with a very loud thud. Instead, Canada will play Sweden for gold Sunday, and the U.S. will face Finland for the bronze medal Saturday.
There was no consolation in that for the Americans, who had wanted to prove, once and for all, that they were Canada’s equal. But when you play 60 minutes of hockey and get the life squeezed out of you every step of the way, it’s hard to make that point.
“We had an awesome opportunity,’’ American David Backes said. “I don’t think we quite laid it all on the line the way we needed to do in order to win, obviously. A 1-0 game in the semifinal against your rival country, it’s a sour taste for sure.’’
But it’s hard to see what more Team USA could have done outside of finding players with more speed. And there aren’t any.
Canada had struggled on offense, but now we know that it didn’t much matter. Nor did it matter that the U.S. seemed to be the only team in the tournament that had figured out how to score leading up to Friday’s semifinal matchup. When Canada puts its mind to it, there is not a team on Earth that can match it stride for stride.
It’s not that the U.S. played a bad game, though its power play was awful. It’s that it skated up and down the ice in a very wide-open game and had nothing to show for it. The Americans ran into something bigger than they were Friday night. It’s called “Canada.’’
Those are bitter words to swallow for Team USA, but there is no denying them. Canada suffocated the Americans. There was no space, nowhere to run, no room at the inn.
A great pass from Jay Bouwmeester to Jamie Benn early in the second period gave Canada a 1-0 lead. No way that would hold up, right?
Yeah, well, about that.
The U.S. will look back on their power play as one of the culprits in the loss. It went 0-for-3 with a man advantage. As the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane said afterward, when you get three chances, you expect to score at least one goal.
“We got cute, and they sent it down the ice time after time,’’ Backes said.
It was a painful night for the Americans, but, again, it’s hard to know what the lesson is in it. Skate faster? Be as good as Canada? The score says they were almost that Friday. The reality said they were miles away. Sometimes you just have to acknowledge that the better team won.
But don’t suggest to U.S. players that Canada is inside their heads.
“We lost 1-0,’’ captain Zach Parise said. “I don’t think there was a mental block at all.’’
Canada played a near-perfect game in the biggest game of the Olympics to date. It might not feed the appetite of the people who like goals, but it was a clinic on how to shut down a team. Wherever the Americans wanted to be, the Canadians were already there, waiting.
There’s no way the gold-medal game will be able to match this one for on-ice speed and off-ice hype.
“It’s amazing,’’ said Canada’s Jonathan Toews, the Hawks’ captain. “In some ways, that felt like the ultimate game.’’
This one won’t go down as an instant classic, the way the gold-medal game did in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, when Canada beat the U.S. in overtime. But hockey purists will look on this one with something approaching reverence. Great goaltending by both Canada’s Carey Price and the U.S.’ Jonathan Quick. And just a spectacular in-your-face assault by the Canadians.
That won’t make it any easier to handle for the Americans.
“It stinks,’’ Kane said.