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With gold at stake, USA-Canada set for epic battle

Wednesday, 08.06.2014 / 4:50 AM

John Dellapina - NHL.com Staff Writer

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With gold at stake, USA-Canada set for epic battle
Canada vs. United States
United States (5-0-0-0, 22 GF, 6 GA) vs. Canada (4-0-1-1, 32 GF, 14 GA)

What to watch -- Forty-two NHL studs -- with a Vezina Trophy-winner sitting on each bench as the back-up goaltender -- going at it with reckless abandon for 60 or up to 80 minutes on a North American-sized rink with the home side defending its national sporting honor and the visiting neighbor continuing its quest for lasting hockey respect.

Don't tune in late or you're liable to miss 10 thunderous bodychecks on the first shift. Don't blink or you might fail to see a one-time touch pass right on the tape at blurring speed. Don't count on anything other than minute after minute of rollicking, rivalry-fueled hockey that only reinforces what everybody already should know: Nobody puts on a show or puts more on the line than NHL players.

Ryan Miller has been the unquestioned No. 1 goaltender for Team USA since before it touched down in Vancouver two weeks ago. Roberto Luongo got the first-game start as a nod to his status as a Vancouver Canuck, but was supposed to back up Martin Brodeur. But when Brodeur was beaten by the Americans, 5-3, in pool play, Canada turned to Luongo, who had an easy qualification-round win over Germany and also beat Russia, but had to make a game-saving stop on Pavol Demitra to prevent a late-game collapse against Slovakia in the semis.

There is a reason that the men's ice hockey final is the final event at the Winter Olympics. That reason will be on full display this afternoon at 12:15 p.m. local time, 3:15 p.m. ET.

Team Reports:

Canada --
This has hardly been the march to a coronation that many expected before the tournament began.

Canada stunningly was extended to a shootout against Switzerland, which Sidney Crosby and Brodeur pulled out, and lost to Team USA in group play. And after obliterating overmatched Germany in the quarterfinals and blasting Russia, Canada survived a major scare when Slovakia came within a desperate Luongo save with 8 seconds left of erasing a 3-0 deficit in Friday’s semifinal.

Through six games, the Canadians have played stretches of awe-inspiring hockey that prompted Slovak star Marian Hossa to compare them with the legendary Soviet teams of the '70s and '80s. Despite being unable to prevail over Ryan Miller's goaltending, Canada's performance against Team USA last Sunday fell into that impressive category.

But Canada also has had some inexplicable hiccups that have prompted head coach Mike Babcock to repeatedly shake up his lineup and change starting goaltenders. And while Brodeur has three Stanley Cups and an Olympic gold medal on his resume, Luongo has yet to win such a championship.

United States --
GM Brian Burke told anybody who would listen -- over and over, in fact -- that his young team was a decided underdog upon which no money would be wagered here. Folks probably stopped believing him right around the time Miller made 42 saves to beat Canada last Sunday.

The Americans have been more consistent and focused to this point, never having trailed in any game so far. They hammered the opponent (Norway) they were supposed to pound, patiently outlasted dangerous Switzerland twice and did what was necessary to upset Canada. Then, stunningly, Team USA destroyed Finland with a six-goal first period in the semifinals.

Miller has been stupendous and will need to be one more time. The best goaltender in the NHL this season in the estimation of many, the Buffalo Sabres' netminder leads these Games in both goals against average (1.04) and save percentage (.954). And he hasn't allowed a goal in his last 111:38 -- since Sidney Crosby beat him late in the third period of the pool play finale.

When Patrick Kane erupted for two goals against Finland, it meant that just about every American was doing the job for which Burke had selected him.

Still, even if it is the No. 1 seed as a result of pool play and gets to wear its blue sweaters, Team USA remains the underdog going into this game. And unless and until it wins gold, its predominantly young team can be questioned about whether it has the big-game gumption required to do so.

Total NHL players on the rosters --
All 46 -- This is an NHL All-Star Game played at the intensity level of the NHL Playoffs.

Puck Drop -- If the gold medal is to come down to subtle differences, consider this one: American centers Ryan Kesler (79.3 percent) and Joe Pavelski (69.6) have been the two best faceoff men in the tournament. Of course, Canada has been pretty strong on the draw as well, with Joe Thornton (5th at 65.3 percent), Sidney Crosby (6th at 64.3 percent) and Jonathan Toews (8th at 62.1 percent) all ranking among the top 10.

# Forwards Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
22 J. Benn DAL 6'2" 210 7/18/1989 Victoria, BC
37 P. Bergeron BOS 6'2" 194 7/24/1985 Ancienne-Lorette, QC
77 J. Carter LAK 6'4" 212 1/1/1985 London, ON
87 S. Crosby PIT 5'11" 200 8/7/1987 Cole Harbour, NS
9 M. Duchene COL 5'11" 200 1/16/1991 Haliburton, ON
15 R. Getzlaf ANA 6'4" 221 5/1/1985 Regina, SK
14 C. Kunitz PIT 6'0" 195 9/16/1979 Regina, SK
12 P. Marleau SJS 6'2" 220 9/15/1979 Aneroid, SK
61 R. Nash NYR 6'4" 213 6/16/1984 Brampton, ON
24 C. Perry ANA 6'3" 212 5/16/1985 Peterborough, ON
10 P. Sharp CHI 6'1" 199 12/27/1981 Winnipeg, MB
26 M. St. Louis TBL 5'8" 180 6/18/1975 Laval, QC
20 J. Tavares NYI 6'1" 205 9/20/1990 Mississauga, ON
16 J. Toews CHI 6'2" 208 4/29/1988 Winnipeg, MB
# Defense Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
19 J. Bouwmeester STL 6'4" 212 9/27/1983 Edmonton, AB
8 D. Doughty LAK 6'1" 213 12/8/1989 London, ON
5 D. Hamhuis VAN 6'1" 209 12/13/1982 Smithers, BC
2 D. Keith CHI 6'1" 200 7/16/1983 Winnpeg, MB
27 A. Pietrangelo STL 6'3" 201 1/18/1990 King City, ON
76 P. Subban MTL 6'0" 217 5/13/1989 Toronto, ON
44 M. Vlasic SJS 6'1" 205 5/30/1987 Montreal, QC
6 S. Weber NSH 6'4" 233 8/14/1985 Sicamous, BC
# Goalies Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
1 R. Luongo VAN 6'3" 217 4/4/1979 Montreal, QC
31 C. Price MTL 6'3" 212 8/16/1987 Anahim Lake, BC
41 M. Smith PHX 6'4" 215 3/22/1982 Kingston, ON
United States
# Forwards Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
42 D. Backes STL 6'3" 221 5/1/1984 Minneapolis, MN
23 D. Brown LAK 6'0" 212 11/4/1984 Ithaca, NY
24 R. Callahan NYR 5'11" 180 3/21/1985 Rochester, NY
88 P. Kane CHI 5'11" 181 1/19/1988 Buffalo, NY
17 R. Kesler VAN 6'2" 202 8/31/1984 Livonia, MI
81 P. Kessel TOR 6'0" 202 10/2/1987 Madison, WI
74 T.J. Oshie STL 5'11" 189 12/23/1986 Warroad, MN
67 M. Pacioretty MTL 6'2" 219 11/20/1988 New Canaan, CT
9 Z. Parise MIN 5'11" 190 7/28/1984 Minneapolis, MN
8 J. Pavelski SJS 5'11" 190 7/11/1984 Plover, WI
26 P. Stastny COL 6'0" 205 12/27/1985 Quebec City, QC, CAN
12 D. Stepan NYR 6'0" 196 6/18/1990 Hastings, MN
21 J. van Riemsdyk TOR 6'3" 200 5/4/1989 Middletown, NJ
28 B. Wheeler WPG 6'5" 205 8/31/1986 Robbinsdale, MN
# Defense Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
4 J. Carlson WSH 6'3" 212 1/10/1990 Colonia, NJ
72 J. Faulk CAR 6'0" 215 3/20/1992 South St. Paul, MN
3 C. Fowler ANA 6'1" 196 3/5/1991 Farmington Hills, MI
7 P. Martin PIT 6'1" 200 3/5/1981 Elk River, MN
27 R. McDonagh NYR 6'1" 213 6/13/1989 St. Paul, MN
44 B. Orpik PIT 6'2" 219 9/26/1980 Amherst, NY
22 K. Shattenkirk STL 5'11" 207 1/29/1989 Greenwich, CT
20 R. Suter MIN 6'1" 198 1/21/1985 Madison, WI
# Goalies Club HT WT DOB Birthplace
35 J. Howard DET 6'0" 218 3/26/1984 Syracuse, NY
39 R. Miller BUF 6'2" 175 7/17/1980 East Lansing, MI
32 J. Quick LAK 6'1" 218 1/21/1986 Milford, CT