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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada beat the United States 2-0 on Thursday to claim a third successive Olympic women's ice hockey title, setting the stage for what the hosts hope will be a golden double in their favorite sport.
Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin scored twice in the first period and shutout netminding from Shannon Szabados completed an unbeaten romp through the competition which ended in wild celebration on the ice to a deafening standing ovation.
"It's so special I don't know if it's sunk in yet," said Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser who was playing in her fourth Olympics. "You grow up in Canada you know the expectations.
"We stuck together, believed in ourselves and played hard..just to win on home ice, the crowd and family."
Hockey-mad Canadians hope to repeat the scene on Sunday if the men's team can get past Slovakia in their semi-final on Friday and reach the gold medal final.
"We wish them good luck and I hope we inspire them," Canadian forward Gillian Apps told reporters.
Earlier, Karoliina Rantamaki scored two minutes into overtime to lift Finland to a 3-2 win over Sweden in the bronze medal game.
The final was played out in front of an excited capacity crowd including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, hockey great Wayne Gretzky and actor Michael J Fox in an electric atmosphere that almost rivaled the Canadian men's clash with Russia on Wednesday.
Played at a pace and skill level not before seen in Vancouver, the final provided an example of how compelling the women's game can be.
But the contest was one of just a handful of truly competitive games played in the women's tournament, a fact that did not go unnoticed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
IOC president Jacques Rogge fired a warning shot across the bows of women's hockey, acknowledging that the huge gap in skill between the two North American powerhouses and the rest of the world needed to be addressed.
Women's hockey has been in the Games since 1998 and Canada and the U.S. have won every gold medal and met in three of four finals.
Canada blasted their way to the final by outscoring opponents 46-2 while the Americans outclassed their opposition 40-2.
Editing by Ed Osmond