By Erin Brown
Final: UNITED STATES 6, Finland 1 -- The United States improves to 5-0 in the tournament and advances to the gold-medal game. Patrick Kane scores twice, Zach Parise finishes with a goal and an assist, and defenseman Brian Rafalski registers two assists.
3rd period, 2:22 left: Here's an interesting bit you're bound to hear a lot before Sunday: In the five Winter Olympics held in North America, the United States has played for men's hockey gold in four of those. (1960 Squaw Valley, 1980 Lake Placid, 2002 Salt Lake City, 2010 Vancouver).
3rd period, 5:14 left: GOAL! UNITED STATES 6, Finland 1 -- Antti Miettinen's slap shot from the left circle hits Jack Johnson in the side and finds its way past Tim Thomas.
3rd period, 6:23 left: Erik Johnson steps into Tuomo Ruutu, who is chasing his own puck along the right boards. Johnson is headed to the box for interference.
3rd period, 8:47 left: Ouch! Bobby Ryan takes a puck to the side of the helmet and drops to the ice while holding his head. He's on the bench holding an ice bag to his left ear.
3rd period, 11:30 left: The Americans have pulled Ryan Miller in favor of Tim Thomas. Smart move by Ron Wilson to get his top guy some rest before Sunday. One thing this guarantees: when the U.S. wins a medal, Thomas will be part of the official Olympic record. Neither Thomas or Jonathan Quick appeared in a game to this point, and to be recognized as a member of a medal-winning team, they need to get on the ice for at least one play.
3rd period, 11:31 left: After some good buzzing by the Finns, Sami Lepisto cross-checks Ryan Malone in the chest and gets a penalty.
3rd period, 13:01 left: Things are getting a little chippy between Saku Koivu and Brooks Orpik. The two come together behind the net, and Orpik falls to the ice, tying up Koivu's stick. Koivu pulls it out, kind of hitting Orpik with it at the same time. Orpik follows him around on the ice and delivers a hit as the whistle blows. They get their gloves up, but nothing comes of it.
3rd period, 15:15 left: Finland can't connect on the power play, but the U.S. effort on the penalty kill isn't that great. Near the end of the two minutes, Saku Koivu tries to tip a shot past Miller, then takes a few too many whacks at the American goalie. Erik Johnson comes in and, again, by tighter international standards, pops him in the helmet.
3rd period, 17:12 left: Ryan Malone gets his stick up a little too high and hits Mikko Koivu in the face. Time to see how the American penalty killers hold up. The Finns are 0-for-1 on the power play today.
3rd period, 18:09 left: The Americans look incredibly sloppy on this power play. A couple turnovers at the blueline lead to odd-man rushes by Finland. On the first, Ryan Miller takes the shot right in the letters and knocks it aside. On the second, Erik Johnson manages to break up the pass.
3rd period, 19:38 left: We're under way again, and the U.S. is already going on a power play. How's this for a call? Patrick Kane loses a glove at the side of the Finnish net, and Niklas Backstrom knocks it aside with his stick... and gets called for interference. Knocking equipment out of the way is a no-no.
End of the 2nd period: UNITED STATES 6, Finland 0 -- Good news for the Finns: they did not allow a goal in the second period.
As we mentioned in the first intermission, this game is all about the little things going forward. Or as the sign in the U.S. locker room reads, "Be brilliant in the basics." Brilliant might be a stretch, but fairly solid is an accurate description.
The Americans aren't putting out more effort than absolutely necessary, yet they're still making the effort to play their game. For the first half of the period, the U.S. had some trouble getting into the Finnish zone. Their passing got sloppy in the neutral zone. But they made the necessary corrections and showed pressure at the end of the period.
Defensively, the Americans are still protecting Ryan Miller as if he's playing without a cup. They're breaking up rushes, blocking shots and clogging the middle. On Finnish rushes, you always see three dark blue jerseys in the mix. The only obvious lapses came on the Lydman spinning shot and on the Immonen shot off the post. On the latter, Ville Peltonen was able to park himself right in front of Miller, and no defenseman bothered to clear out the Finn.
The Americans need to get out of this period with another solid effort, few mistakes, and maybe a couple more goals just to keep them from feeling snakebitten going into the next game.
2nd period, 1:21 left: Jarkko Immonen winds up at the top of the left circle and puts a shot off the far post. That may have been the closest Finland has come to scoring a goal in this game.
2nd period, 2:24 left: Tony Lydman spins in the slot and fires a slap shot on Miller. The American defenseman gets it with his right pad and kicks it into the corner.
2nd period, 3:43 left: The crowd appears so bored by the game, they've resorted to doing the wave. We'd expect that from non-hockey markets, but Vancouver? Says something about the pace of this one...
2nd period, 7:22 left: The Americans aren't looking laxed on defense despite the score. Ryan Kesler gets twisted around and falls to the ice, but manages to break up a chance by Niklas Hagman. On Finland's next rush, Ryan Suter steps up on Olli Jokinen in the right corner and ends another potential opportunity.
2nd period, 8:18 left: The pace of this one has turned into that of a chess match. The Americans and Finns are even in shots this period, with five apiece.
2nd period, 12:01 left: Jarkko Ruutu charges the net looking for a rebound and falls onto Ryan Miller. Ryan Kesler tries to pull him off, and it leads to a scrum (by boring Olympic standards). Patrick Kane comes over to check out the situation, and takes a whack in the pads by Olli Jokinen. Jokinen then goes after Kane by putting him in a headlock. Size-wise, it is a total mismatch. Kind of makes you wonder how Kane took on a cabbie in Buffalo, no? Bobby Ryan and the referee finally get over to break it up. Ruutu ends up with a roughing minor and a 10 minute misconduct for his antics.
2nd period, 13:23 left: The Finns seem to be spending a lot more time in the American end, but the U.S. holds strong. They're still blocking shots and breaking up plays. Finland has just three shots on net in this period.
2nd period, 15:01 left: Teemu Selanne fires a quick snap shot on Miller, who knocks it aside with the blocker.
2nd period, 16:06 left: Gleason is back on the ice. ... The ice must be pretty horrible at this point. A few players have lost edges and hit the ice.
2nd period, 17:54 left: Tim Gleason takes a hard shot from Sami Lepisto right in the gut and crumples to the ice. The Americans clear the puck and Gleason makes it back to the bench.
2nd period, 19:51 left: We're under way in the second period. Going forward, unless this one becomes close, we'll probably focus on the "little" things the U.S. is doing to see how well they're tuning up for Sunday. Don't worry, we'll keep feeding you the scoring updates.
End of the 1st period: UNITED STATES 6, Finland 0 -- Well... with half a dozen on the board and a Finnish team that looks like it would rather be in the sauna, it might be safe to pencil in the Americans for the gold-medal game. Because barring a meltdown of historic proportions, that's where they're headed.
The Americans haven't played to the tempo as they did against Canada or the Swiss. They've benefitted from a total collapse by Mikka Kiprusoff and his teammates. The first goal, is in large part Kiprusoff's fault, but he didn't receive much help from his defensemen, who were loafing along the boards. Kiprusoff didn't get much help, either, in having players cleared out from the front of his crease, and that led to a couple of penalties in trying to make up for the lack of effort earlier. Then the Americans just poured it on.
Patrick Kane, who had just one goal prior to today's contest, has two already. After games, he often talked about there being another gear to kick into. He may have found it, and if he hasn't, he's at least gaining some confidence to find it for the next game.
Here's something scary: The Americans are outshooting the Finns 13-4. That's almost a shooting percentage of 50 percent (46.1 percent for all you math wonks). If all factors stay the same, we could be looking at a record blowout here. We'd like to think that won't happen, that the Finns have some pride to preserve.
So, what does the U.S. focus on at this point? To quote Herb Brooks, "Play your game. Play your game." The Americans need to keep the pressure on the Finns, even if they wave a white flag. That's the only way they're going to be prepared for what could potentially be one angry, bloodthirsty Canadian team.
1st period, :11 left: Brian Rafalski goes to make a hit on Finland's Valtteri Filppula, but ends up taking him out at the legs. Rafalski gets called for kneeing. The Finns go on their first power play of the game.
1st period, :38 left: Olli Jokinen gets past a suddenly lazy American defense. He takes a pass at the bottom of the right circle and gets a clear shot at Miller, who blocks it.
1st period, 2:00 left: The Finns have shown a little life. Not the kind that will get them to rally from a six-goal deficit, though.
1st period, 4:49 left: Teemu Selanne hasn't given up. At least not yet. The winger tries to stuff the puck past Ryan Miller on a wraparound. Seconds later, he chases down a puck behind the net, skates it to the left circle and fires off another shot.
1st period, 7:28 left: GOAL! UNITED STATES 6, Finland 0 -- Is this the U.S. women vs. the Finnish women? Paul Stastny roofs a wrist shot from the right circle. It is starting to look like the Finns have given up.
1st period, 7:43 left: GOAL! UNITED STATES 5, Finland 0 -- So much for a goaltending change. Brian Rafalski breaks up a Finnish play in the neutral zone and feeds Patrick Kane, who carries it in on a 2-on-1 with Dustin Brown. Kane opts to shoot. It goes in for his second of the day.
1st period, 9:52 left: GOAL! UNITED STATES 4, Finland 0 -- Patrick Kane brings the puck into the offensive zone. His first shot is kicked aside, but Niklas Hagman's clearing attempt ends right back onto Kane's stick. The winger holds the puck for a moment, pulling Kiprusoff to the top of the crease, and wrists it past him. That's it for Kiprusoff. He opts to pull himself from the net. Niklas Backstrom comes in.
1st period, 11:24 left: GOAL! UNITED STATES 3, Finland 0 -- Kiprusoff opts to keep a puck dumped in by Joe Pavelski alive, and it costs him. Ryan Malone battles behind the net, and gets the puck to Pavelski, whose shot is kicked to the right faceoff circle. Defenseman Erik Johnson gets the rebound and fires it back for the goal. The Finns called time out.
1st period, 12:53 left: Dustin Brown draws another penalty, this time by taking a hit from behind by Tony Lydman along the left boards. The U.S. goes back on the power play.
1st period, 13:38 left: GOAL! UNITED STATES 2, Finland 0 -- Paul Stastny collects the puck along the right goal line and feeds Zach Parise who is screeching toward the net. Parise wrists it over Kiprusoff as the netminder slides across.
1st period, 13:59 left: As Dustin Brown chases a puck into the offensive zone, Janne Niskala gets in his way to give Kiprusoff time to play the puck. Brown goes down and Niskala is headed to the box for interference.
1st period, 14:47 left: The Americans are sticking with their game of aggressively forechecking. Mikka Kiprusoff comes out to play the puck, and rushes the pass around the boards. Chris Drury picks it up on the right side, but can't convert it into a chance.
1st period, 17:56 left: GOAL! UNITED STATES 1, Finland 0 -- Ryan Malone clears the puck out of the U.S. end, and it trickles into the Finnish zone. Mikka Kiprusoff comes out to the high slot to play, and with Phil Kessel pressuring, Kiprusoff puts it right on the stick of Malone, who is trailing the play. Malone fires it into the wide open net.
1st period, 19:49 left: We're under way in Vancouver. The start for the Americans is slower than in previous games. Both teams seem like they're feeling each other out. Brian Rafalski gets the first shot on net from just inside the blue line. It's an easy save for Kiprusoff.
Preview (2:35 p.m.): The IIHF has posted lines for today's game [pdf ]. For the Americans:
Zach Parise -Paul Stastny -Jamie Langenbrunner
Ryan Malone -Joe Pavelski -Phil Kessel
Dustin Brown -Ryan Kesler -Patrick Kane
Chris Drury -David Backes -Bobby Ryan
The defensive pairings:
Ryan Suter -Brian Rafalski
Tim Gleason -Erik Johnson
Jack Johnson -Brooks Orpik
Winger Ryan Callahan and defenseman Ryan Whitney will be rotated into the action.
And for the Finns:
Teemu Selanne -Saku Koivu -Jere Lehtinen
Tuomo Ruutu -Mikko Koivu -Valtteri Filppula
Niklas Hagman -Niko Kapanen -Antti Miettinen
Ville Peltonen -Olli Jokinen -Jarkko Ruutu
The defensive pairings:
Sami Salo -Kimmo Timonen
Joni Pitkanen -Toni Lydman
Sami Lepisto -Janne Niskala
Forward Jarkko Immonen and defenseman Lasse Kukkonen will also suit up for the Finns.
As expected, Ryan Miller will get the start for the U.S., while Mikka Kiprusoff will tend net for Finland.
Preview (11:00 a.m.): The United States looks to continue its improbable medal run when it faces off against Finland in the men's hockey semifinals.
Today is the first meeting between the teams in this tournament. Historically, the Americans are 6-3-2 against the Finns, but have dropped two of the last three meetings. The most recent came during the quarterfinals at the 2006 Olympics, when Finland trumped the U.S., 4-3.
The Finns, who grabbed the final quarterfinal bye, dispatched the Czech Republic with a hard-fought, 2-0 victory on Wednesday.
Mikka Kiprusoff made 31 saves for the shutout. Niklas Hagman broke the deadlock with less than seven minutes to play in regulation, and Valtteri Filppula secured the win with an empty-net goal.
The Americans defeated Switzerland, also by a score of 2-0, on Wednesday. Ryan Miller finished with 19 saves, while Zach Parise provided both third-period goals for the Americans.
Today's matchup is likely to end up as a goaltenders duel as it pits the top goaltenders of the Olympics against each other. Kiprusoff tops all netminders in save percentage (.947), while Miller leads in goals-against average (1.25).
The Finns play a hybrid style, combining the speed and finesse of the European hockey and the physical toughness of the North American game.
"They have great speed, they're a great transition team and a tough team," American defenseman Jack Johnson told USAHockey.com . "It's going to be a great game. There are no secrets or tricks or anything. Just two tough teams going at it."
One player to keep an eye on is Finland's Teemu Selanne . In Finland's 5-0 win over Germany in the preliminary round, he recorded an assist which gave him 37 career points in the Olympics, more than any other player. The 39-year-old says this will be his last tournament, and motivation to go out with a gold is significant. Selanne has won six medals in international competition, but never a gold.
We'll be sure to post lineups as soon as the IIHF makes them available for the game.
Be sure to check back at 3 p.m. for our live blog. We'll be covering the game from the puck drop to the final horn.