SOCHI, Russia -- Has everyone regained their breath yet? As thrilling as Team USA's shootout win over host Russia was in the preliminary round, that game was a step behind the pace of Friday's 1-0 semifinal victory by Team Canada over its North American rival. Quite the 24 hours for Canada over the U.S., eh? Ouch. What a game, though, at the Bolshoy Ice Dome. You wish these two teams could play a best-of-seven.
Five things to know about the game:
1. The pace was outstanding. If this were the NHL every night, I would do my job for free. It was breathtaking to see two evenly matched powerhouse teams go at each other like that, back and forth with so much speed and precision. For the most part, though, Canada dictated that pace and spent more time in the U.S. zone with an effective cycle and forecheck. It's clear that Canada was thrilled to be getting a chance to play some north-south, North American hockey after playing the likes of Latvia and Finland beforehand, both of those teams sitting back and forming a defensive shell around their goalie. This was Canada's kind of game, and it showed in the comfort of its execution. The passes were crisper, the transition game more fluid, the decision-making more natural.
2. Canada returned to its comfort zone. Team USA rolled through its first four games with so much ease, it was clearly the best-looking squad in the tournament entering the semifinals. Team Canada? Not so much. The Canadians didn't look overpowering in getting through the likes of Norway, Austria and Latvia. The conundrum analyzing Canada's play was that perhaps it was impossible to tell how it fared, in truth, because of said level of competition. All along, Canadian players assured us that once the competition picked up, they would bring their A-game. They weren't lying. Canada pushed the pace for most of this game, dominating with a cycle game that bottled up Team USA for long stretches. This was the Canadian team we saw in Vancouver four years ago.
3. Confusing line matching. Phil Kessel was perhaps the most dynamic offensive player in this tournament entering the semifinals. Not on this night. He was shut down by the Jonathan Toews line with Patrick Marleau and Jeff Carter. What befuddles me is why U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma, having the last line change as the home team, didn't try enough to get Kessel's group away from Toews'. Makes no sense to me at all.
4. Crosby stepped up. Sidney Crosby still doesn't have a goal in this tournament, but he was all-world Friday, a constant threat in the offensive zone in what was clearly his most dominating effort. I think we all know by now that when the games get more important, he'll show up. He did again Friday.
5. Price stands tall. The goaltending matchup seemed to be a slight edge for Team USA, and certainly you can't fault Jonathan Quick in a 1-0 loss. But Carey Price answered the question of whether he was ready for this kind of career-making challenge. He was calm, cool and collected in staring down U.S. shooters, swallowing the puck and allowing very few rebounds. Yes, the Price was right.