Tampa Bay Lightning
U.S. routs Finland, will play for hockey gold
VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The torment began almost immediately. The shot by the Tampa Bay Lightning's Ryan Malone into a wide-open net left Finland goalie Miikka Kiprusoff staring at the ceiling and shaking his head. What happened next in this semifinal jolted Canada Hockey Place: The U.S. team scored four times on Kiprusoff in a six-goal first period, surging into the Olympic gold-medal game with a 6-1 rout of Finland on Friday. "We haven't won anything yet," forward Zach Parise said. "We're getting better and that'd the most important and rewarding thing."The U.S. will meet the Canada-Slovakia winner on Sunday, 50 years to the day after capturing gold in 1960 at Squaw Valley, Calif. By the time Kiprusoff left the game 10:08 in, the U.S. had a 4-0 lead on only seven shots. The Calgary Flames goalie had allowed four goals total on 75 Olympic shots in three previous games, giving him the top save percentage in the tournament. Kiprusoff said coach Jukka Jalonen told him he would be out after a fourth goal. "If you let in four goals in the first period, it's the right call to make," Kiprusoff said. Backup goalie Niklas Backstrom was still wearing his baseball cap as he scurried on the ice to get ready to bail out Kiprusoff. Kiprusoff's day appeared to be over after Eric Johnson made it 3-0 with a power-play goal at 8:36 that prompted Jalonen to call timeout. Kiprusoff stayed in, but was back at the bench 1:32 later when Patrick Kane scored the first of his two goals. This time, Kiprusoff kept his mask on and marched straight down the tunnel toward the dressing room. He returned to the bench soon after and was in place in the corner in time to see Backstrom allow two goals on the first four shots he faced. "The losing is fine as long as you play your best game and the other team beats you," forward Teemu Selanne said, "but today's case it was a nightmare." Kiprusoff had only himself to blame for his misery. The U.S. cleared its defensive zone with a nudge of the puck that slid slowly in toward Kiprusoff. Phil Kessel raced up ice and forced Kiprusoff to come way out of his crease to play the puck. The goalie gently swept it away, but right onto the stick of Malone, who quickly fired a shot from the top of the left circle into the vacated net at 2:04 for his third goal. Captain Jamie Langenbrunner slammed his stick against the boards as his teammates hugged on the bench as the clock ran out. This is the second time in three Olympics the American men will play for gold. They haven't claimed the top spot on the podium since the 1980 Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid, N.Y. Canada edged the U.S. for gold during the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, and a rematch could be in store. The Americans (5-0) topped the host nation 5-3 to conclude preliminary play. So much for the Americans needing to ride the stellar play of Ryan Miller. He was relieved by Tim Thomas with 11:31 left after stopping all 18 shots he faced. Miller had played every minute of the tournament until then. Only twice in the past 10 years has an NHL team led by at least six goals after the first period, and no NHL team has scored six in any period this season. "I haven't been a part of that kind of game. The game is over after six minutes," the 39-year-old Selanne said. "It was a long day and very disappointing." Thomas allowed Antti Miettinen's deflected goal with 5:14 left to spoil the U.S. bid for consecutive shutouts after a 2-0 quarterfinal win over Switzerland on Wednesday. The U.S. didn't wait long for offense. The six goals in the first tied the U.S. Olympic record for goals in a period, a feat accomplished five other times but not since a 1964 win over Germany. "It was a crazy 12 minutes," Kane said. "I've never been a part of something like that. It seemed like we were scoring every shift." The Americans pulled back after that and recorded only 12 shots over the final 40 minutes. Finland, the silver medalists four years ago in the Turin Games, will have to settle for a shot at the bronze. This proud group of aging stars, including Selanne and captain Saku Koivu, earned bronze in 1998 when the NHL first started sending players to the Olympics. The Americans were eliminated by Finland in the 2006 Olympic quarterfinals, but the Finns were the final opponent for the 1980 U.S. team that shocked hockey. U.S. fans took a page from the host country's supporters and alternated with chants of "We Want Canada" and "U-S-A" as the final minutes ticked down. Parise matched Malone with his third goal when he nestled a shot under the crossbar for a power-play goal off a perfect pass from Paul Stastny at 6:22. The Finns, who committed numerous turnovers with sloppy play that led to goals and other scoring chances, handed the American another power play when Toni Lydman rammed Dustin Brown's face into the boards with a hit from behind with 7:02 gone. Johnson turned that into another power-play goal. It was the first time in this tournament a team scored more than once in a game with a man advantage. Timeout Finland, but by then it was already too late. Kane, a top-line U.S. forward, who had scored only once in the tournament, struck for back-to-back goals 2:33 apart - one each on Kiprusoff and Backstrom - and Stastny scored 15 seconds after Kane's second to make it 6-0 with 7:14 left in as one-sided as a period can be. Other than cheers from American fans in the crowd, the biggest outburst came when it was announced that only one minute was left in the period in which the U.S. held a 13-4 shots edge. NOTES: Miller faced only 37 shots in his past two games after seeing 45 during the win over Canada. He has allowed five goals on 108 shots overall in the tournament. ... The U.S. is 7-3-2 against Finland in Olympic play, outscoring the Finns 47-28. ... This was Kiprusoff's second earliest exit. He was pulled from a Calgary playoff game vs. San Jose on April 8, 2009, after allowing three goals on five shots in 3:33 of play.