By Greg Beacham
SOCHI, Russia: For the rematch, Canada skipped the overtime and shelved the theatrics.
One slick goal and 60 minutes of stifling defensive hockey kept the Canadians firmly on top of the U.S. and moved Canada to the brink of gold again.
Jamie Benn scored in the second period, Carey Price made 31 saves, and Canada beat the United States 1-0 Friday night in the semifinals of the Olympic men’s hockey tournament.
Canada advanced to the gold-medal match Sunday against Sweden, which beat Finland 2-1 in the earlier semifinal at Bolshoy Ice Dome.
With an unbeaten run through Sochi, the Canadians are a win away from their third gold medal in four Olympics, and they’re guaranteed their first medals outside North America in 20 years.
This win had none of the flair of Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal to beat the U.S. four years ago, and the Canadians didn’t care.
“We didn’t score a lot of goals, but we didn’t have to,” Canada forward Jonathan Toews said. “The next game will follow that work ethic. We can check, we can work our tails off, and we can make things real tough for the other team.”
After its first loss in Sochi, the U.S. will face Finland for bronze today.
The defending Olympic champions left little doubt about their North American hockey dominance in a rematch of the finale of the Vancouver Games. Although the Canadians had no signature moments and never pulled away, they also never appeared seriously threatened.
From faceoff to final buzzer, Canada was in control.
“We just wanted to stick to our systems,” Canada defenseman Duncan Keith said. “They’ve got a lot of speed, especially on their top two lines. I thought we did a good job of staying on top of them and taking that speed away.”
The Canadians haven’t even trailed in the Sochi Olympics, and they coolly maintained border supremacy on the U.S. by defending their blue line with authority.
Their stifling defense has allowed just three goals in five games, and they clamped down on the high-scoring American offense for every minute of a slightly anti-climactic evening.
“We didn’t really create much offense,” U.S. forward Patrick Kane said. “On the chances we did have, their goalie made some good saves. It’s a little disappointing. ... I think everyone expected a tight-checking game, but to say we would have gotten shut out, I don’t think anyone would have thought that.”
Jonathan Quick stopped 36 shots for the Americans, who had trailed for just 7:19 in Sochi before Benn’s goal put them in a hole they never escaped.
Canada went ahead early in the second period during a shift by Benn and Anaheim Ducks teammates Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester threaded a pass into the slot, and Benn deflected it past Quick, whose aggression sometimes makes him vulnerable to such shots.
Canada beat the Americans for the fourth time in five Olympic meetings since the NHL players joined the party in 1998. The showdown might have been the last Olympic meeting of these nations’ best players for a long while if the NHL keeps players out of the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, forcing the rivalry to move to a World Cup or world championship.