VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- On the day before the 30th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice, and donning vintage jerseys to commemorate the U.S.'s 1960 gold medal-winning team, Team USA summoned the powers of history to their side, defeating the mighty Canadian team, 5-3. In the most anticipated match of the back-to-back-to-back hockey extravaganza, dubbed "Super Sunday," the Canada-USA game lived up to its billing right from the start.
It was the first time the two teams played in the Olympic Games since the 2002 gold medal game, when Canada defeated the U.S., 5-2, and the first time the Americans defeated their neighbors in 50 years. Coming into Sunday's contest, the U.S. were the heavy underdogs, having gone 2-10-3 all time against Canada in the Olympics.
But betting lines don't necessarily account for superstar performances, like the one Ryan Miller put together Sunday afternoon. The Buffalo Sabres goalie, whose Olympic mask includes a shamrock, a salute to 1980 USA goalie Jim Craig, channeled his history-making predecessor with a spectacular game in net. Despite letting in a Sidney Crosby power play goal with just over three minutes left in the game, Miller saved 42 of the 45 shots he faced and helped the U.S. to its third straight win.
Meanwhile, Canada goalie Martin Brodeur had a harder time in his net, as traffic near his crease created bounces he couldn't anticipate. Typically one of the most composed goalies in the NHL, Brodeur got caught flopping around his crease in the second period, and was on his back when Chris Drury found the loose puck on the right side and sniped one into the open net, putting the U.S. up, 3-2. Midway through the third period, U.S. defenseman Brian Rafalski, who scored the U.S.' two goals in the first period, created the game-winner when his point shot deflected in on Jamie Langenbrunner's skate.
From the start, the game featured world-class speed and skill. In a spirited first period, in which Canada outshot the Americans 19-6, Rafalski started the scoring within the first minute, when his shot from the point fortuitously deflected off of Sidney Crosby's stick and into the net. The early goal sucked the air out of Canada Hockey Place, as thousands of red-and-white clad fans watched in disbelief. In this tournament, Canada hasn't forfeited a goal in the first period, let alone the first minute of a game. So playing from behind hasn't been something they've had to worry about.
The home team-in spirit, since the U.S. technically had the last change-got on the board when Eric Staal deftly deflected a Brent Seabrook shot past Miller at 8:53 in the first, but they couldn't enjoy it for very long. Just 22 seconds later, Rafalski struck again, slipping a shot through traffic and through Brodeur's feet. Behind 2-1 in the second period, though, Canada scored the equalizer when Dany Heatley punched in a rebound three and a half minutes in, thanks to the hard work of Jonathan Toews, who did the dirty work in the close quarters and got off the initial shot on Miller.
The U.S. defense, which had struggled for the first two games, giving up some odd-man rushes, buckled down on Canada's roster full of superstar snipers, keeping their chances down in the third period. In the game's closing minutes, the U.S. players went down to block shot after shot and -- with 44 seconds left in the game -- Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks nailed the coffin shut, scoring an empty-netter. The final shot count was 45-22 in favor of the Canadian team.
The win for the U.S. puts them in first in Group A, and earned them a bye for the first round of the playoffs. As for Canada, they will have to watch tonight's late game between Finland and Sweden to find out which team they will play in a qualifying playoff.
USA general manager Brian Burke is known to say that not a penny would be bet on his underdog U.S. team. After tonight's gutsy performance and the work of his all-star goalie, Burke should know that Vegas is recalibrating its lines as we speak.