Final Score: Canada 3, United States 2
First Period Recap: From the very beginnings the stylistic difference between the teams were readily apparent, with the Americans looking to push the pace and Canada trying to take away space and time. USA had the first good shot mere moments into the game as Kelli Stack got free up the near wall and fired a shot from the right circle that rung the crossbar behind Canadian goalie Charline Labonte. After the US controlled the opening few minutes of the game, Canada turned the play on the counter-attack with Catherine Ward's stretch pass springing Meghan Agosta-Marciano for a partial breakaway that Jessie Vetter denied with a scissor-split save.
From there momentum switched to the women in red thanks to the first power play of the game going to Canada as Jocelyne Lamoureux got the gate for tripping, taking down all-time women's international scoring leader Hayley Wickenheiser at the 4:37 mark. Though the Canadians struggled to set up in the zone with great forechecking from Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight on the kill, after the power play passed without a score Canada took over the possession game and would see the majority of the zone time for the remainder of the first. Things would even for a stretch when Caroline Ouellette was called for holding at 10:59 but Labonte held strong denying Megan Bozek's slapper from the high slot, the best American chance on the power play.
Decker would take the second US penalty of the period at 17:47 for body checking Marie-Philip Poulin, allowing Canada to generate more chances before the end of the period. Vetter was equal to a short-side slam attempt by Natalie Spooner in denying the best Canadian chance of the power play, and the teams ended the first period scoreless. Though the US out-shot Canada 11-8 in the first period, the three time defending gold medalists had the higher quality opportunities. Canadian coach Kevin Dineen had said in the pregame that his team needed to hold possession, in particular below the hashmarks, and for the majority of the opening 20 minutes they did just that.
Second Period Recap: The goaltenders stepped to the fore in the second period, as Vetter's challenging style nullified many Canadian opportunities without a second chance while Labonte cooly controled rebounds by deflecting them away from danger areas. In the opening moments the US pushed the play, but in each instance Canada's defense collapsed back into form and nullify the attack before any great opportunity could be created. The physical play picked up as well with Canada going hard to the net to try and rattle the American netminder, but Vetter continued to play on the top of her crease in making stops on Poulin and Gillian Apps in the first half of the period. Labonte had a nice leather-flashing moment as well, denying a give and go play between Decker and Kendall Coyne with a good glove save.
Things began to turn at the 12:27 mark as Megan Duggan was sent to the box for spilling Jayna Hefford off the play on a Canadian zone entry. Down a player with the interference minor, Knight made a brilliant play at the US blue line to steal the puck and spring Stack for a breakaway that Labonte came up with a big pad save on. Behind the play Rebecca Johnston was called for cross checking, and the teams skated four a side as the US began to take over play. Just as both penalties expired Gigi Marvin fired a shot from the blue line that caused some trouble as the US really began creating a tangle of traffic in front of Labonte.
The US transition game again caused a penalty at 16:57 as Lauriane Rougeau was called for body checking behind the play with Amanda Kessel springing free up the near wall for a high backhander that was stopped. On the ensuing power play the Americans opened the scoring with Anne Schleper firing a wrister from the top of the far circle into traffic that Knight deflected past the glove of Labonte.
Ahead 1-0 with 2:26 remaining in the period the US poured it on; a two-on-one chance for Coyne and Kessel foiled by a great defensive recovery; Knight stealing the puck behind the net and backhanding one at the right post; Marvin's point shot off a face off win creating a rebound for Duggan. As the horn sounded at the end of the second Canada was clearly on its heels, out-shot 13-11 in the period. If not for the play of Labonte the American advantage would've been multiple at the intermission.
Third Period Recap: Trailing by one and facing the prospects of a fifth consecutive defeat at the hands of the US, Canada came out roaring in the third. Aided by a Decker tripping minor 53 seconds into the period, the Canadians held the puck in the zone for the majority of the advantage before equalizing. Vetter made the save on a point shot, but the rebound kicked right to Wickenheiser who passed across the slot to a wide open Agosta-Marciano for the easy power play goal at 2:21 of the period. With new life in a freshly tied game, the Canadians pressed their newfound control of play and took the lead 1:33 later.
The goal would not be without controversy as Wickenheiser's shot from the far circle appeared to be stopped by Vetter, but the puck ended up in the net as the whistle blew. Replay showed that after Vetter made the initial stop she attempted to pull the puck in to freeze it, but the puck slid through her and into the net. The whistle blew when the puck was still in the blue paint of the crease meaning the goal would not have counted in the NHL, but the officials ruled that because the puck was not covered and in motion the goal was good. It was Wickenheiser's 55th career international goal, breaking the all-time record previously held by American Cammi Granato, and firmly placed momentum in a red sweater and the US on their heels.
With Canada controlling the play, American forwards found absolutely no room to maneuver offensively, finding it difficult to even enter the offensive zone. The only real opportunity the team generated in the opening half of the period was a slow skipping shot from Jocelyne Lamoureux that caught Labonte leaving her near post early, but the attempt from the near wall clanked off the iron. Canada's defense did a strong job of clearing the puck and keeping the US out of danger areas, and drew another penalty with 8:01 remaining as Josephine Pucci went off for hooking. Though the power play passed without additional damage Agosta-Marciano took advantage of a turnover by Knight at the Canadian blue line, catching the US defense up ice and beating Vetter between the wickets on a breakaway that stretched the lead to 3-1 with 5:05 to play.
Leading by a pair by virtue of suffocating defense and attacking offense, Canada held the US without a shot in the period until 3:30 remained. Sensing the need for a spark late, the US pulled Vetter with 2:20 to play and for the first time in the period was able to get extended time in the attack zone. Coyne had an opportunity from the slot that Labonte stopped, but spit a rebound out that she struggled to recover from and couldn't handle Schleper's blue line shot as the Americans clawed back within one with 65 seconds left.
Team USA got a power play with 30 seconds left as Canada was finally called for too many skaters on the third such instance they appeared guilty of the infraction in the game, but couldn't get a chance to the net as time ran out. Canada dominated the third period, scoring all three of their goals in the final frame and out-shooting the US 12-3 to finish atop the group and earn the top seed in the elimination round semi-finals.
The Good: The Americans outshot Canada 24-19 through two periods, and were by far the more dangerous team for the second half of the second period. Knight was particularly effective in creating chances when not on the ice against Canadian defender Catherine Ward, and an unfortunate second goal against not-withstanding Vetter had a strong performance.
The Bad: Save for approximately half of the second period, Canada controlled the possession game. With the officials letting the game take on more of a physical tone that advantaged the Canadians, the US struggled entering and setting up in the attack zone. Instances were few and far between where the Americans were able to use their speed or cycle to their advantage.
The Ugly: Canada completely dominated the third period, taking advantage of an early power play to build momentum and never relinquishing it. It was the first time in the tournament that the US was made to look like what they are- a young team that has 10 first time Olympians, unsure of how to defend a lead and close against the best in the world on the grandest stage.
Honorable Mention: Both goaltenders had solid performances with Vetter making 28 saves, but Labonte's strong performance in the second half of the second period proved the difference in the game. The Canadian keeper finished with 25 stops, but made her biggest mark following the goal near the end of the second period making a multitude of saves with Team USA buzzing.
3rd Star: Hilary Knight - Knight had the first goal of the game and at times looked like the best player on the ice for the US. It was clear that Canada game planned against her, but she still made a solid impact.
2nd Star: Hayley Wickenheiser - In breaking Granato's international goal scoring record, Wickenheiser once again showcased the value of her experience and skill. Though she was fortunate to score that goal, she had the primary assist on the first Canadian goal that really turned the momentum of the game.
1st Star: Meghan Agosta-Marciano - Agosta-Marciano had several chances in the game, the first to get a good look on Vetter and ultimately the most successful in scoring two goals including the game-winner. She's now tied with Johnston for the team lead with four points, and leads Canada with three goals for the tournament.
Next Game: Monday, February 17 at 9 AM PT against an opponent to be determined on NBCSN. We'll have full Tweet By Play coverage at @AnaheimCalling on Twitter.