VANCOUVER, B.C. - Canada caught fire in the third period against its biggest women's hockey rival, but by then it was far too late.
Jenny Potter scored a pair of goals, her second short-handed, as the United States beat Canada 4-2 Thursday at the Hockey Canada Cup women's tournament. Potter's second goal put the Americans up 2-0 early in the third.
The two sides traded a pair of goals before game's end, but the U.S. made the most of their head start in front of 6,833 at GM Place.
"Disappointed with the loss no question, but I thought we did some good things too," Canadian head coach Melody Davidson said. "We played a terrific third period and played with a great sense of urgency and desperation."
The rival countries were 2-1 to conclude the preliminary round of the Olympic test event, followed by Finland and Sweden at 1-2. Sweden beat Finland 3-1 earlier Thursday.
Canada meets Sweden and the Americans and Finns square off in Saturday's semifinal round with the winners advancing to Sunday's final. Finland upset the U.S. 3-2 to open the tournament Monday.
TSN will carry Sunday's final on tape delay (Midnight ET). The rest of the games can be viewed on Hockey Canada's website via webcast.
The U.S. improved to 5-2 versus Canada in their last seven meetings, including victories in the last two world championship finals.
Thursday's game was the first of up to 10 meetings between the two countries as they prepare for the Olympic Games in Vancouver next February. The gold-medal game will be played Feb. 25 at GM Place.
"Playing in this rink and playing in front of the crowd, which was amazing whether they're cheering for us or against us, I think is a great starting point for all of us," Potter said. "It gives us something to look forward to coming up in February."
Kerry Weiland and Hilary Knight also scored for the U.S. Meghan Agosta of Ruthven, Ont., and Brianne Jenner of Oakville, Ont., replied for the hosts, who fell behind 3-0 before Agosta's goal midway through the third.
U.S. goalie Molly Schaus, who played for Boston College last season, made 26 saves.
Edmonton's Shannon Szabados suffered her first loss in her 10th start for Canada. Her performance in the first half of the game kept the score 1-0 because her teammates were often in the penalty box. She made 28 saves in the loss.
After beating Finland and Sweden by a combined score of 17-0 to open the tournament, Canada suddenly had to contend with a team that forced them to defend their own end and took away their time and space with the puck.
The hosts didn't handle the new pressure well initially as they spent three and a half minutes killing a two-man U.S. advantage in the first period.
The Canadians had more composure in the second period, but didn't cycle the puck down low in the attacking zone as they did against the Scandinavians. Back-to-back odd-man rushes didn't produce a goal and neither did three power-play chances in the second period.
"We got ourselves I think 12 minutes in penalties in the first period and we were fighting from behind and missing on some key chances," captain Hayley Wickenheiser said. "We had multiple chances to tie the game and move ahead so I feel like we kind of gave the game away."
The 26 players invited to try out for Canada's Olympic team have been training together since the beginning of August. The U.S. held a training camp prior to this tournament and brought 23 players to the tournament.
"We've got line combinations that are different every game and a lot of things are changing and going on with our group, but at the same time when you're in these games, you've got to execute no matter what and under any type of situation," Wickenheiser said. "We need to better. We all know that and we get maybe one more chance to do that."
Potter caught the hosts flat-footed in their own their own zone in the final seconds of Canadian power play to start the third period. She roofed a pass from the boards from Knight for a short-handed goal 58 seconds in.
The U.S. emerged from the first period with a 1-0 lead on Potter's power-play goal, but the damage to Canadians could have been worse.
They were two players short for three and a half minutes because of lack of discipline around their own net and along the boards.
After Catherine Ward's cross-check to Caitlin Cahow in Canada's crease, forward Gillian Apps and defenceman Becky Kellar both went to the penalty box at the same time for bodychecking, which isn't allowed in women's hockey, at 14:10.
Canada managed to kill off the Americans' two-man advantage, but because they were short-handed for so long, generated few scoring chances on Schaus in the first period.
Potter's goal at 5:53 of the first period was the first goal Szabados had given up to the U.S. in three starts after shutouts at the 2007 and 2008 Four Nations Cups.
The ill-will each side bears the other surfaced in the first period when Wickenheiser and Kacey Bellamy got into a shoving match beside the U.S. crease.
Canada's healthy scratches were defencemen Colleen Sostorics and Gillian Ferrari of as well as forward Haley Irwin. Goaltender Charline Labonte (ankle) forward Jennifer Wakefield (shoulder) and defender Delaney Collins (post-concussion) also sat out.
Sweden ended its drought earlier Thursday. Danijela Rundqvist, Pernilla Windberg and Elin Holmlov scored for the Swedes after they were outscored a combined 14-0 by Canada and the U.S. to open the tournament.
"Mentally, for us, this was a huge win," Swedish coach Peter Elander said.
Sara Grahn made 21 saves in goal for the Swedes, while Finnish counterpart Noora Raty stopped 26 shots. Michelle Karvinen countered for Finland.