SOCHI, Russia - Coming off a heartbreaking loss to rival Canada, the U.S. Men's Olympic Team needed only a spark to come back to life in pursuit of a bronze medal against Finland here on Saturday night.
Instead, it encountered the wet blanket Finnish defense and its all-world goaltender Tuukka Rask.
"We weren't able to get back and respond and come back in this game," said U.S. coach Dan Bylsma. "We had opportunities and chances in the first period that would have put us up in this game, but we didn't get them. They played fantastic, just the way we thought they would play."
The early chances were some of the best the U.S. has had in the tournament. Forward Patrick Kane was awarded two penalty shots and missed on both attempts. On both attempts he had Rask beat, but the puck rolled off his stick the first shot and he hit the post on the second.
"He came up big there for them with the opportunities and the penalty shot we had in the first," Bylsma said. "(Finland) made it tough to penetrate and tough to score."
In the second period Finland jumped to a quick two-goal lead that gutted the U.S. resolve to rally. From there the Finland defense kept the American attack to the outside.
"I thought we came out hot and came out strong and did what we needed to do and it just kind of got away from us," said defenseman John Carlson. "(Rask) played well, we had our chances but we didn't score."
Captain Zach Parise called the U.S. effort "disappointing" and said encountering a strong team in Finland when emotions were low after the loss to Canada was a recipe for trouble.
"We had a good start, I thought," he said. "I felt like once they got those two goals a lot of frustration set in on our part ... We started trying to beat guys one on one, turned the puck over and gave up power plays and stopped playing that team game that got us there in the first place."
After Finland's two goals, the U.S. started a parade to the penalty box that cost dearly with two third period power play goals allowed. In the third, the U.S. managed only five shots on goal. Forward Dustin Brown said the third goal, scored by Juuso Hietanen just as a penalty to Kane expired, made the comeback seem too much for the Americans.
"They had a 2-0 lead, we needed the next one," Brown said. "That doesn't matter if it's an Olympic game or an NHL game, that third goal one way or another is generally a key to the win."