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Clock Strikes Midnight For U.S. Medal Hopes

02/22/2014, 1:45pm MST
By Harry Thompson - Editor, USA Hockey Magazine

SOCHI, Russia – It was Tuukka time at the Bolshoy Ice Dome on Saturday night, and the bell tolled for the U.S. Olympic medal hopes.

After their golden hopes were dashed last night by Canada, the U.S. Men’s Olympic Team boldly predicted that they would not go home empty handed.

But the stellar goaltending of Tuukka Rask and a pair of goals from the ageless wonder Teemu Selanne propelled the Finns to a 5-0 win that left the Americans grasping at nothing but answers about what went wrong in a tournament that started on such a high note.

It marked the fourth medal the Finns have won since NHL players began representing their respective countries on the Olympic stage.

“There was absolutely no part of anyone who didn’t want to win a bronze medal, absolutely none,” said head coach Dan Bylsma. “To a man, everyone talked about the importance of this game and winning a bronze medal.”

Turn about is fair play on the Olympic ice as the Finns got a measure of revenge after being routed by the Americans, 6-1, in the semifinals in 2010 in Vancouver.

In Sochi, the Finns knocked the Russians out of the tournament and took the Canadians to overtime, so the U.S. knew it had its hands full against a talented team with world-class goaltending.

The Finns knew they would need that tonight against the high-flying Americans, and Rask was up to the task. After missing the semifinal showdown with Sweden with the flu, the Boston Bruins’ netminder turned aside all 27 shots he faced, along with a pair of penalty shots from the ever-dangerous Patrick Kane.

Playing in his final Olympic game, Selanne became the oldest player at 43 years and 234 days to score an Olympic goal when what appeared to be a routine backhand shot caught goaltender Jonathan Quick by surprise as it tucked inside the post.

Before the crowd of 9,052 had returned to their seats, Petri Kontiola drew Quick to his left and fired a perfect pass to Jussi Jokinen who made no mistake in scoring 11 seconds later.

“They scored those two quick goals and it kind of sucked the wind out of us,” said Dustin Brown, who saw his ice time dramatically cut after the second goal.

A tournament that started with such high hopes ended with an empty feeling as the U.S. was shut out in its final two games after scoring 20 goals in their first four.

“You saw almost two different teams from the first four [games] to the last two,” said David Backes, who tried to light a fire under his teammates by hitting everything in a white jersey.

“The last two are the ones that really matter when the temperature gets turned up and you have to dig in harder and play harder. We maybe even took a step backward and watched other teams take it to us. The result is we’re going home with real disappointment.”

As the Americans desperately looked for a ray of hope against Rask, Juuso Hietanen drove the nail in the coffin at the 6:10 mark of the third period with a snapshot that worked its way through a maze of sticks and legs and was in the back of the net before Quick could react.

As the frustration continued to mount the parade to the penalty box began for the Americans.

First, with T.J. Oshie off for interference, Mikael Granlund fed Selanne, who showed why he has racked up 682 goals in his Hall of Fame career.

“If there’s one guy on the planet I feel happy for after losing that game it’s him,” said Cam Fowler, who has played with Selanne in Anaheim for the past four seasons.

“He’s one of the best players who has ever lived and one of the best guys I’ve ever known. I’m happy for him, he deserves it.”

Several minutes later, Ryan Suter took a high sticking penalty and Jori Lehtera put it on a tee for Ollli Maata, and the 19-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman made no mistake in blasting it past Quick.

“That’s the disappointing thing,” Backes said. “If we played our butts off and were ousted by better teams you can live with that. But to have less than stellar performances in a tournament like this where it’s one and done, you’re playing for your country and there really should be nothing held back. It’s going to be a sour, sour feeling for a while.”

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