VANCOUVER – Marie-Philip Poulin scored two first-period goals to lead Canada to a third straight Olympic gold medal in a 2-0 win over the United States. Shannon Szabados was nothing short of brilliant in goal for the Canadians, stopping all 28 shots.Click here for the photo gallery of the game.
"We trusted in ourselves," said veteran forward Jennifer Botterill. "Steve Yzerman came and spoke to us before the game, and that was one of his biggest pieces of advice: to trust yourself. We were excited, but had confidence in all the preparation we did."
Coming into this game, Szabados had exactly two games of top-level experience under her belt, both here in Vancouver over the last two weeks. The game was watched by Wayne Gretzky and Prime Minister Stephen Harper as well as a full complement of both men's teams from Canada and the U.S.
"I'm proud and very honoured to be Canadian," said Meghan Agosta, the MVP of these Olympics. "To represent your country in Canada is an honour in and of itself. We had no doubt that if we played hard and worked together that we would be successful."
Coach Melody Davidson gave Szabados the surprise start despite the many years of experience in Kim St. Pierre’s resume. Six minutes into the game Szabados proved her worth for the first – but not last – time, making a huge glove save on Monique Lamoureux. Lamoureux flew down the left wing and ripped a wrist shot to the glove side, the game’s first good scoring chance.
"Team Canada's a great team," said American Hilary Knight. "It just shows their perseverance. We had tons of opportunities tonight and couldn't capitalize. Hats off to Szabados for doing a great job. The puck didn't bounce our way, but she did a great job."
Indeed, while Canada’s men had been scrutinized for the intense pressure they had felt, the women, with mostly easy games so far, hadn’t faced any. But they started this game nervously and tentatively. Midway through the period they skated their way into a more confident team, drawing a couple of penalties but unable to capitalize.
Then it was Canada that took two quick penalties, creating a five-on-three for the Americans for 38 seconds. Szabados was sensational, and Wickenheiser made an heroic sliding block of a hard shot to keep the U.S. at bay. Soon after the teams were playing at full strength, Canada struck.
Jennifer Botterill took a loose puck along the left boards and swept a pass to Poulin in the slot. Poulin ripped a one timer over the glove of Jessie Vetter at 13:05.
Poulin got her second goal of the period at 16:50. This came off a faceoff deep in the U.S. end to the left of Vetter. She won the draw to winger Meghan Agosta, but the weak backhander was easily blocked. The puck came right back to Poulin, however, and she drilled a low shot to the glove side which Vetter couldn’t reach.
"Poulin's just a little sniper," said Botterill. "You try to get her the puck, and she gets off some good shots."
It was a fast and furious period marked by great scoring chances. The big difference was Szabados at one end and Canada’s ability to nail its chances at the other.
The Americans came out as a determined group and spent most of the first 90 seconds of the second period in Canada’s end, generating some good chances but not able to beat Szabados.
Canada then incurred two delay of game penalties within a span of 23 seconds, but the penalty killers during the 1:38 of U.S. five-on-three were extraordinary. They blocked passing lanes, got sticks and bodies in the way of shots, and had Szabados as a superb last line of defence.
"Szabados played great," said Lamoureux. "She stole the game from us. We had two 5-on-3's and we just couldn't bury the puck. They blocked a lot of shots. We had rebounds to capitalize on and she made some great saves. I tip my hat to her. She played awesome."
The rest of the period featured spectacularly exciting, end-to-end action. Both goalies had several close calls, the glove hand of Szabados often the difference. Both teams also had their chances with the man advantage, and near the end of the period each team had a power play which was spent almost entirely in the offensive end. But, after 40 heart-pounding minutes, Poulin’s two goals were still the only ones on record.
Canada’s outlet passing and poise under pressure were impressive, and the team was able to contain the speed on the Americans for the most part, keeping their fleet-of-foot forwards to the outside. The Americans still generated their fair share of chances, and with a 2-0 score with 20 minutes (or more) to play, this game’s result was by no means known.
It was clear from the drop of the puck to start the third that Canada wasn’t about to gamble, knowing that the Americans had to start taking chances. Szabados made another sensational save near the seven-minute mark. The Canadian defence made a dangerous clearing right through its own crease and the puck bounced off Monique Lamoureux’s skate and headed right between the legs of the goalie until she squeezed the pads together.
The pace never let up, but the Canadians played brilliant defence and maintained their composure until the final horn when Canada Hockey Place erupted into a deafening cacophany of joy.
Canada had won gold for the third straight Olympics.
"This is definitely my last Olympic Games," Becky Kellar said, "and this is a good way to go out. It felt like a dream to be out there with that many people in the stands."