SOCHI, Russia — Russia's hockey team must have hijacked the fire wagon from the United States to extinguish the Olympic flame on its humbled journey out of town.
How else to explain the soulless clash Friday between North American powers headlining the marquee matchup of the Olympic tournament?
Canada, the reigning gold medalists, ultimately prevailed 1-0 to advance to the title game for the third time in four Olympics. Team USA, which won silver medals losing to Canada in the ultimate game in 2002 and 2010, will have to settle for a bronze medal JV game Sunday against Finland while the Canadians face Sweden for global supremacy.
It was an efficient slog for Canada, which dominated the puck, the body and drained the energy from the high-octane Americans, stultifying the crowd of 11,172 that came to see pond hockey not Wild-Devils circa 2001.
Sure there was speed. Canada roared up and down the ice and essentially played keep away as Team USA remained a step behind and tired trying to catch up.
“We didn't show up to play,” groused defenseman Ryan Suter, alternate captain of the Minnesota Wild. “It's kind of frustrating. They're a good team. We sat back. We were passive. You can't play scared. I thought we sat on our heels and just didn't take it to them at all.”
The United States boasted a balanced and prolific offense, with a tournament-leading 20 goals in four games compared to Canada's 13. But the Americans could not produce one when it mattered most.
Not Phil Kessel, whose five goals and nine points led all players, nor Patrick Kane, Chicago's dynamic scorer who was laid an Olympic goose egg.
“We had an awesome opportunity. I don't think we laid it on the line like we needed to to win,” said center David Backes, of Robbinsdale. “A 1-0 game in the semifinal against your rival country, it's a sour taste for sure.”
Team USA failed to generate much electricity on its three power plays. Its forecheck was virtually nonexistent. Canada made it difficult for American forwards to work with impunity like they had throughout the tournament.
“We have some big forwards and were able to hold the puck down low,” said Canadian captain Sidney Crosby. “We forced them to play in the defensive zone a lot. They've got a lot of guys who are skilled. They have a lot of speed but I think we did a good job of keeping them in there for at least 20 seconds in shifts.”
Goalie Jonathan Quick was strong on his game, making 36 saves. But Jamie Benn broke the ice early in the second period.
Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester crashed the zone hard and wristed a shot wide right, avoiding a charging Backes. Benn cut to the net and got a blade on Bouwmeester's pass-shot, redirecting it top shelf at 1:41.
And that was it for offense. Canada outshot the Americans 37-31. Meanwhile Canada improved to 50-7-3 internationally against the United States, which has to recalibrate quickly for Saturday's bridesmaids game against the Finns.
“It's one more time to wear this red, white and blue for our country and hopefully come home with some hardware,” Backes said. “That's what our sights are on now. Obviously it's a sick feeling tonight but we've got one more chance tomorrow to make this trip worth it.”
Defenseman Paul Martin of Elk River was a late scratch because of a hand injury. That allowed Justin Faulk of South St. Paul to replace him on the blue line with Brooks Orpik.
Otherwise Team USA went with the same lineup that had dominated Slovakia and Slovenia in the preliminary round, plus the Czechs in Wednesday's quarterfinal.
Russia provided the biggest challenge during last week's electrifying 3-2 shootout. T.J. Oshie's heroics will define the 2014 Olympic team but there was much left on the table.
The United States was 5-0 including a victory over Canada during its run to a gold medal rematch in Vancouver, ultimately won when Sidney Crosby scored the overtime winner for Canada on home ice.
Team USA has never won an Olympic bronze medal. It won gold in 1960 and 1980 and silver in 1972, 2002 and 2010.
Afterward coach Dan Bylsma put on a brave face talking about the 2010 rematch that fell flat and what lies ahead for his crestfallen club.
“There's huge disappointment not being able to come up with a victory in this game,” he said. “But that's got to be put behind us real quick. We still have a lot to play for. We're going home with a bronze medal after we put this loss behind us.”