Wearing uniforms that honored the Olympic champion 1960 U.S. hockey team and deploying a lineup that included the son of a player from the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" squad, the current U.S. Olympic team made some history of its own Sunday.
In an exhilarating game that often went end to end without giving fans a moment's pause to do more than gasp, the Americans punished Canada goalie Martin Brodeur for his puckhandling mistakes and rode a two-goal, one-assist performance by Brian Rafalski to a 5-3 winat a jam-packed Canada Hockey Place.
The U.S. earned first place in Group A and a bye into the quarterfinals while sentencing Canada to compete in a play-in game against Germany Tuesday.
"It's phenomenal. I wouldn't want to play Canada anywhere else than in Canada, and beating them in Canada feels great," defenseman Jack Johnson said after the first U.S. victory over Canada in Olympic play in 50 years. This was the seventh try since a 2-1 American win at Squaw Valley in 1960.
Rafalski scored his third and fourth goals of the tournament--equaling his total in 57 games with the Detroit Red Wings--and fellow defenseman Ryan Suter, son of 1980 gold medalist Bob Suter, set up two goals.
And when Canada gave its fans some hope and pulled within a goal on Sidney Crosby's power-play redirection of a Rick Nash pass at 16:51 of the third period, U.S. goalie Ryan Miller protected that precious 4-3 lead until Ryan Kesler scored into an empty net with 44.7 seconds left. Canada had a 14-4 edge in shots in the third period and 45-23 overall, but the U.S. players weren't cowed.
"It gives our guys a lot of confidence," said Rafalski, the oldest U.S. player at 36. "They didn't realize or know what they could get done. Going forward it's going to give them confidence to play with anybody."
Canada had every reason to feel confident Sunday with a bigger and deeper team. But talent doesn't always translate to results, as Brodeur showed.
He's one of the best among his brethren at playing the puck--and he has more freedom to roam without the NHL's trapezoid to limit him--but he simply goofed by throwing the puck up the middle on Rafalski's second goal.
"I hate to say it but I think we just need to play more games," Brodeur said. "There's things we need to work on."
They can start with not giving up the kinds of gifts that Brodeur dispensed.
"Not taking anything away from them, but we kind of gave them some of their goals. We didn't make them work for some of them," Canada defenseman Duncan Keith said.
"It's a good eye-opener. We realize that we've lost a game and there's no pressure now."
Rafalski scored the first U.S. goal by taking a cross-ice pass from Suter and slapping a shot that glanced off Canada's Sidney Crosby and past Brodeur 41 seconds into the game. Canada tied it at 8:53 on Eric Staal's redirection of a shot by defenseman Brent Seabrook, but Rafalski put the U.S. ahead, 2-1, at 9:15 by intercepting Brodeur's clearing attempt and firing it home from about 35 feet.
"I saw what he did and I said, 'I've seen him do that before,'" said Rafalski, formerly Brodeur's teammate with New Jersey. "There were people up the right side and nobody up the middle."
Canada pulled even at 3:32 of the second period, as Chicago's Jonathan Toews passed across the slot to Dany Heatley, who had an open right side of the net. But the U.S. surged ahead again at 16:46 after Canada was scrambling in its own end and Brodeur had flopped on his belly.
With defenseman Dan Boyle standing in the crease, Chris Drury flicked the puck home on assists from Bobby Ryan and brawny David Backes. Brodeur said Drury bumped him. "After that the puck went up in the air and I tried to poke check and it just got chaotic there," Brodeur said.
Jamie Langenbrunner extended the U.S. lead to 4-2 at 7:09 of the third period, during a power play gained after Ducks winger Corey Perry was penalized for slashing. That held up until Crosby trimmed the Americans' lead to one.
They had come too far to give in at that point.
"This team didn't back down at all," Johnson said. "I don't think anyone that really knows us expected us to back down one bit.
"We came in knowing we could win. We showed up at the arena today expecting and knowing that we can win."
And so they did.