BEIJING — Canada’s Captain Clutch, Marie-Philip Poulin, delivered at the Olympics again.
Poulin scored twice, including her third gold-medal clinching goal, and Canada reclaimed its place atop the women’s hockey world by capping its run through the Beijing Games with a 3-2 win over the defending champion United States on Thursday (Wednesday night Pacific time).
Ann-Renee Desbiens stopped 38 shots and Sarah Nurse had a goal and assist in a game where the Canadians built a 3-0 lead and hung on for the win. Nurse set the single tournament record with 18 points.
The Canadians finished 7-0 and spent their time in Beijing showcasing a dynamic, deep and relentless offensive attack to capture their fifth Olympic title in seven tournaments, with four coming against the Americans in what’s been one of sports’ fiercest and longest-running rivalries.
Just as important, Canada bounced back from a shocking 3-2 shootout gold-medal loss to the U.S. at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.
Canada can now boast holding both the Olympic and world championship titles at the same time, and for the first time since 2012. The win at Beijing comes nearly six months after Poulin’s overtime goal sealed Canada’s 3-2 victory over the U.S. at worlds, which ended the Americans’ run of winning five consecutive tournament titles.
Hilary Knight, the Americans’ only consistent threat in the tournament, scored her team-leading sixth goal on a shorthanded rush to cut the deficit to 3-1. Amanda Kessel scored with 14 seconds remaining during a mad scramble in front for a power-play goal and with the U.S. net empty for an extra attacker.
Alex Cavallini stopped 18 shots in her fourth tournament start.
The Americans, who have two Olympic golds, settled for their fourth silver medal, with all losses coming against Canada.
Poulin continued playing up to the nickname she earned for scoring decisive goals in big games and especially against the Americans. She scored both goals to seal Canada’s 2-0 gold-medal win over the U.S. at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Four years later at Sochi, Poulin scored in overtime to seal the gold-medal win over the Americans again.
Poulin staked the Canadians to a 2-0 lead with 4:34 left in the first period, and then made it 3-0 off an odd-man rush 9:08 into the second period. Nurse drove up the right wing and fed Brianne Jenner, whose slapper was stopped by Cavallini. The rebound caromed to Poulin, who immediately fired a shot from the left of the net and banked it in off Cavallini’s skate.
Knight’s goal with 3:21 left in the second period provided the Americans life, but they were unable to cash in on their chances in the third period. Alex Carpenter had two chances five minutes in, only to have her one-timer from the left circle hit the crossbar, and then getting by Desbiens on a partial breakaway.
It’s been a long and bumpy road back for the Canadians, who were forced to reinvent themselves in three years under coach Troy Ryan. The low point followed Canada settling for bronze at the 2019 world championships, which marked the first time in tournament history the country failed to reach the title game.
At Beijing, the Canadians out-classed the field by outscoring opponents by a combined margin of 57-10, including a 4-2 win over the U.S. in group play last week.
The U.S. didn’t have enough defense to contain the Canadians’ aggressive forechecking attack, nor the offense to match them, especially without top center Brianna Decker, who broke her left leg in the tournament opener.
The Americans spent the two weeks having difficulty finishing chances, and they entered the game ranking fifth of 10 teams in scoring efficiency with just 28 goals on a tournament-leading 334 shots.
The troubles were most apparent a minute before Poulin scored to put Canada up 2-0. A Canadian turnover in the neutral zone led to Abby Roque — Decker’s replacement — driving up the left wing. Rather than waiting for her teammates to gain the zone, Roque instead fired a weak shot at the net, which Desbiens easily smothered.
A minute later, two U.S. forwards lazily misplayed Megan Keller’s clearing attempt. Poulin beat Americans to the puck, turned toward the net and knuckled in a shot that appeared to glance off defender Savannah Harmon.
Canada actually scored three times in the opening period only to have their first goal, scored by Natalie Spooner, disallowed following an offside challenge video review. Replays clearly showed Nurse being offside.
It didn’t seem to matter. Nurse scored 54 seconds later off a faceoff to the left of the U.S. net. Poulin won the faceoff and drew it back to Claire Thompson, who fired a low hard pass through the middle, which Nurse redirected inside the right post.