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Finals not automatic for U.S., Canadian women

by Jon Lane

Prior to Canada's preliminary game against the United States last week at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, goalie Charline Labonte referred to the greatly anticipated match between two of international women's hockey hottest rivals as "our Stanley Cup." The intensity of Canada's 3-2 win against the U.S. was equivalent to a gold medal game or a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, and whetted appetites for a golden rematch from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

It's widely expected that the Canadian and American women will meet again with everything on the line, so it's been easy to overlook their respective semfinal opponents, Switzerland and Sweden. Feb. 17, 2006 at the Torino Games is a reminder that anything can happen to detour those best-laid plans. It's a night Sweden cherishes to this day and one the Americans find impossible to forget even if they tried.

Sweden's 3-2 shootout win put it and not the U.S. into the final against Canada, a shocking upset considering the Americans had outscored the Swedes 68-12 in the previous nine games between the two over a 16-year span.

"I remember that too," U.S. head coach Katey Stone told reporters. "That's in the past. It's time to make the future."

Come Monday, there will be laser-like focus on the present from the U.S. and Canada in the semifinals that begin with the U.S. facing Sweden (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN). If there is any doubt the Swedes take great pleasure in playing the spoiler's role, look no further than when they stunned archrival Finland 4-2 in the quarterfinals on Saturday behind Emma Eliasson's power-play goal with 4:15 left in regulation. Sweden goalie Valentina Wallner outplayed her counterpart, Noora Raty, and her teammates barely gave the Finns time to breathe.

"They play a great game through the neutral zone," Stone told "They handle the puck well, are patient and their goaltender plays well behind them, so we have to be ready."

Despite their penchant for upsets, the odds are against the Swedes on Monday. In two international games since Torino, the United States earned 9-1 wins each time. But, after seeing what Sweden did to Finland, the Americans know another date with Canada is far from 100 percent guaranteed.

"You play so many games and anyone can beat anyone," U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said. "You think back to 2006 and Sweden beat the U.S. You think back earlier in the year and Finland beat us [at the Four Nations Cup]."

Canada continued its unbeaten run through the Sochi Games against the U.S. on Feb. 12 behind two Meghan Agosta-Marciano goals that stretched the Canadians' Olympics winning streak to 18 games. Canada will face a Switzerland team Monday (12 p.m. ET, MSNBC) that grinded out a 2-0 win against Russia to move into the semifinals.

It was Switzerland's first victory following a tough run in Group A, which included a 5-0 loss to Canada in the opener. Swiss goalie Florence Schelling made 41 saves against Russia and a whopping 64 the first time against Canada.

"It seems strange to say we only lost 5-0, but we were pleased that we showed some of our game as well," Swiss forward Stefanie Marty said. "This won't be a game where we are happy to just to turn up -- we want to score on Canada, we want to give our best. We know what Canada can do, but we play better as an underdog."


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