SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Canada squeezed past arch-rivals the United States 1-0 on Friday to reach the final of the Sochi Winter Games men’s ice hockey competition as they bid to successfully defend their 2010 Olympic crown.
Sweden, 2-1 winners over Finland in the other semi-final, will face off against Canada on Sunday to decide the final gold of the Games hours before the closing ceremony.
“This was a huge win for us and I’m excited about it,” said Canadian forward Rick Nash. “It was pretty special in Vancouver where we won gold. Now we have the chance to do it again.”
Jamie Benn, overlooked when invitations to the first training camp were sent out, scored the only goal as Canada again came out on top in a mouth-watering do-or-die rematch of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games gold medal contest.
After a scoreless opening period, Benn came charging towards the slot and redirected Jay Bouwmeester’s low shot past a helpless Jonathan Quick.
The brilliant Carey Price then slammed the door on the Americans, stopping 31 shots to earn the shutout.
Referring to being left out of the initial roster, Benn said: “It gave me the motivation to come into this year and have a good first half with my team back home. I worked really hard to be here today.”
The contest lacked the intensity, emotion and excitement of four years earlier, as the confident Canadians produced a business-like effort to shut down an explosive American attack.
When the final buzzer sounded there was no stampede off the bench and no wild celebrations for the Canadians, with the Swedes still standing between them and a second straight gold.
“Sweden’s stingy,” said Canada forward Matt Duchene. “I’ve played in their top league and I’ve played against their national team a few times.
“They don’t give you much and they’ve got one of the best goalies in the world behind them so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s going to be another 1-0 game.”
Thousands of miles and nine time zones away, hockey-mad Canadians - still buzzing from a stunning 3-2 overtime win over the United States in the women’s final on Thursday - came together for another day of compelling action on the ice.
Businesses and work places across the Great White North emptied and bars filled to capacity as millions of hockey fans tuned in to watch the first meeting between the North American rivals since Canada claimed the Olympic title four years ago in Vancouver with a golden goal from Sidney Crosby.
Canada are trying to win their first Olympic gold medal outside North America in 62 years and become the first country since the Soviet Union in 1988 to retain the title.
A so-called Unified Team also won in 1992 after the break-up of the Soviet Union.
“Just keep doing what we’re doing,” said Crosby, summing up Canada’s approach to the gold medal game. “We’ve got better every game and I think you see it that we’re coming together with each one.
“Just continue that. It’s hard to say keep it as normal as possible when you know the stakes are high, but you really have to try to focus on doing that.
“Trust our game and trust what has got us here.”
Earlier at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, Erik Karlsson’s second-period blast from the point put Sweden through to the gold medal final for the second time in three Olympics.
The game against Finland, a repeat of the 2006 Turin Games final, got off to a sluggish start as both sides seemed wary of committing the first mistake and falling behind in what was expected to be a tight affair.
After a scoreless opening period, Finland took the lead when Olli Jokinen beat Swede Jimmie Ericsson to a loose puck and fired a shot that squeezed through Henrik Lundqvist’s legs and trickled over the goal line.
Sweden struck back five minutes later when Loui Eriksson sent a low shot past a sprawling Kari Lehtonen, who was starting in place of the flu-ridden Tuukka Rask.
Karlsson put his team in front when he fired a shot from the point that hit Lehtonen before finding its way into the net with less than four minutes to play in the second period.
Additional reporting Frank Pingue; Editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris