After suffering their first loss of the tournament to Canada in the final game of group play, Kelli Stack and the US Women's hockey team knew they had to bounce back against a Swedish side that had stood as their semi-final opponent for the third consecutive Olympics. The Swedes came in riding the crest of momentum following a 4-2 upset of Finland in the quarterfinal, with the added mental boost of history with a shocking 3-2 shootout win at Torino in 2006. Though the US won the semifinal at Vancouver in 2010 by a 9-0 final, the Americans knew they had to get off to a fast start against a hard-working, physical opponent with strong goaltending to earn the chance to compete for the ultimate in Olympic glory.
Final Score: United States 6, Sweden 1
First Period Recap: In a pregame interview with NBCSN's Pierre McGuire, Stack said "We're really excited to go ... We had some great practices and we learned a lot from the game against Canada." From the get go it was obvious that Team USA would accept nothing less than a return trip to the gold medal game to face their rivals to the north for a second time.
As has been the case for the majority of the tournament, the American speed proved a major advantage in taking control of the flow of the game. Despite Sweden setting up to try and gum up the neutral zone, attempting to stand the US up at the blue line and obstructing off the puck, the US was able to spend the majority of the first five minutes in the offensive zone. Speedster Kendall Coyne earned the first power play opportunity of the game, quickly swinging out from behind the net in an attempt to center the puck and forcing Anna Borgqvist to hook her to the ice. It took the Americans 25 seconds to convert as Megan Bozek chipped the puck up the wall to Stack, who swept around the net and found Alex Carpenter alone in front for a wrister that beat Swedish goalie Valentina Wallner for a 1-0 lead at 6:10.
The US dominated possession for the period, working the high-low game to create opportunities in the Swedish zone. Kacey Bellamy doubled the edge at 1:06 later with a shot from the blue line that found its way through a maze of Swedish defenders past Wallner after Decker drew attention below the goal line and slung the pass back up top, Bozek drawing the secondary assist on the tally as well. Team USA fed off the goal and continued to heap the pressure and shots on Sweden, drawing a five-on-three advantage when Jenni Asserholt was sent off for roughing with Lina Wester already in the box just past the midway mark of the period. Though the power play was unsuccessful the Americans continued to swarm, as Gigi Marvin's shot from the line created a rebound chance for Decker that was stopped before Amanda Kessel picked up the loose change and roofed the 3-0 goal at 11:19 prompting a Sweden timeout.
Most impressive in the opening period was how US control of the puck left Sweden with next to no opportunity to threaten goalie Jessie Vetter. It took until Michelle Picard took what McGuire termed on the broadcast a "scoreboard penalty" hooking minor at 11:33 for the Swedes to even get a shot on the American net. It would be the only one they could manage in the period as the US tied their second fewest shots allowed in a period mark for the ninth time in Olympic history; it was the fourth time Team USA held Sweden to a single shot in a period, with the previous three occurrences coming at Nagano in 1998. At the end of the period the US held a 3-0 lead and a 29-1 advantage in shots, exactly the kind of start they'd hoped to achieve.
Second Period Recap: The Swedish story continued to be the play of their goalkeeper Wallner in the second period, as she remained under rubberized assault from seemingly every angle as the US continued to dominant possession and pepper her with pucks. Meghan Duggan and Monique Lamoureux combined for what looked like a sure goal in the early stages of the period with Duggan centering the puck to the slot, but a downed Wallner stretching out the glove to snatch Monique's shot from the goal line.
After Coyne used her speed and position to steal the puck in the neutral zone from Pernilla Winberg the Swede smacked her hard to the ice earning an interference penalty 3:47 into the period. The US blasted away on the power play, finally converting with six seconds left in the advantage when Monique snapped a rebound of sister Jocelyne's second chance attempt home in the high slot to make it 4-0.
A Coyne hooking minor near the middle of the period gave Sweden the opportunity to try and mount some offense, but the US continued to smother and the few shots they managed came from the perimeter. Just over a minute after the penalty kill completed successfully Coyne worked the puck back to the blue line for Bozek, who blasted a shot through traffic to put Team USA ahead 5-0 at 12:17 of the period. On the next whistle Swedish coach Niclas Hogberg would mercifully replace Wallner, who made 42 saves on 47 shots against in her 32:31 of play, with 2006 hero and the female hockey player with the most Olympic appearances Kim Martin Hasson.
For much of the period facing the long change the Swedish defense played as if on the penalty kill, even with five skaters. They rarely moved from a box around the slot and let the Americans move the puck around the perimeter with seeming impunity. As the period ended the US lead 5-0, and had out-shot Sweden 51-6.
Third Period Recap: With the result pretty well in hand the intensity was noticeably reduced in the final frame, though it did allow Sweden to put together some decent stretches of play. Defenseman Emma Eliasson was really the only positively noticeable Swede through the first two periods, making some of the few offensively minded moves by the team. She was finally rewarded for it when Sweden earned an offensive zone face off after Vetter pulled and froze a puck off the goal line on a rushing wrap around attempt. Winberg won the draw to Eliasson, who fired and had her shot deflected at the hash by Borgqvist past Vetter far post to put Sweden on the board at 13:04.
The goal seemed to rouse the Americans, who turned back on their puck dominance and fired away at Martin Hasson's cage. A great pass from Duggan sprung Jocelyne on a breakaway that the last Swedish defender was forced to hook her on to neutralize the chance but concede the penalty shot. Jocelyne tried the Martin St. Louis sweep up the near hash and spin-o-rama in front of the net move, but Martin Hasson stayed with it the whole way and made the right pad save.
After the failure of the penalty shot the US would convert just over two minutes later on a nice transition play by the second line. Coyne raced up the near wing, zinging a pass across the slot to Kessel, who made a pretty drop pass for Decker who blasted the shot off the crossbar but got a favorable bounce as the rebound deflected in off a recovering Swedish defender. The goal at 16:58 served as the capstone for the game's offense as the US completed the game holding Sweden to three shots in the period, out-shooting Tre Kronor 70-9 for the game in closing out the 6-1 victory to seal a spot in Thursday's gold medal game.
The Good: The question of "How will Team USA respond?" was answered quickly and resoundingly, as the Americans put together the kind of dominant first period you'd be hard pressed to replicate in a video game, much less the Olympics.
The Bad: Hilary Knight had minimal impact on the proceedings and Jessie Vetter had a save percentage below 90%. Hard to fault the goalie though when she could pull a Kari Lehtonen for large stretches of the game but have to put something here, right?
The Ugly: Yahoo's Puck Daddy head Greg Wyshynski pointed out on Twitter that "writers parachuting in for medal round will label [the women's tourney] a joke because of one result." It is tough to watch when one side is so thoroughly dominant.
Honorable Mention: The second line wingers Kendall Coyne and Amanda Kessel each had multi-point games, with Kessel scoring a goal and dishing a helper and Coyne getting two primary assists. In a game where the American offense was dangerous seemingly no matter who was on the ice, this trio proved to be the most effective.
3rd Star: Valentina Wallner - While it may seem unorthadox to give a star to a goalie who played just over half the game, Wallner kept the game respectable when it very easily could've turned into a laugher. You won't find a better pair of glove saves than the ones she made near the start of the second period; even Henrik Lundqvist would be impressed.
2nd Star: Brianna Decker - Centering Coyne and Kessel, Decker made plays all over the ice all game long in picking up a goal and two assists. From working the high-low on her first helper, to creating an additional rebound on Kessel's tally, to finally closing the scoring with a good bounce off a blast it was an impressive outing.
1st Star: Megan Bozek - Assisting on the American's first two goals and getting one of her own just past the midway mark of the game, the first time Olympian from the University of Minnesota is emblematic of what much of the US defense was today. Dominant in possession, involved in the attack, and smothering in their own zone.
Next Game: Thursday, February 20 at 9 AM PT against Canada on NBCSN. We'll have full Tweet By Play coverage at @AnaheimCalling on Twitter.